Rachel, left, and Brenda Mains, twin sisters from Lowell, each received a master’s in public health degree in May 2023 after earning their UMass Lowell bachelor’s degrees in the same field from the university in 2021. (Courtesy UMass Lowell)
LOWELL — In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, twin sisters Brenda and Rachel Mains graduated with bachelor’s degrees from UMass Lowell’s public health program. That circumstance helped inspire them to continue with their education, enrolling in the master’s of public health program. Again, together.
After six years at the university, the sisters, who are the first in their family to graduate college, were ready for all the pomp and circumstance they deserved at this year’s commencement.
“It will be really nice to have an official ceremony with my mom, our friends and family in the audience as we march across the stage to accept our diplomas,” Rachel said in the leadup to the ceremony, held Friday, May 12, at the Tsongas Center.
From college to career
As graduate students, they decided to pursue the health care management option in the MPH program to develop more professional skills while gaining a deeper understanding of public health. Both will soon start new jobs in the field and credit their preparedness to UMass Lowell.
Rachel’s internship at Lowell General Hospital’s Regulatory Compliance Department inspired her to look for jobs involved with regulatory, risk management and quality improvement aspects of health care.
“I’ve especially enjoyed the educational experiences I got in the master’s program, including being part of the university’s new Public Health Informatics and Technology program,” she said.
Brenda recently accepted a job offer from Steward Health Care as a patient access representative.
“The education I received from UMass Lowell has been nothing short of amazing,” Brenda said. “The professors are so passionate about public health, and it shows in the coursework and in the way they interact with students. They’ve prepared me well to put my public health skills to work and to always grow and learn.”
The Mains sisters, who grew up in Lowell, lost their dad to cancer when they were 11. Their mom raised the twins and their brother, who is two years older, as a single parent.
“Most people probably wouldn’t know the struggles our family has gone through,” Brenda said. “Now that we’ve earned a bachelor’s in public health, and a master’s degree, it feels surreal. I am really proud and grateful to earn my degrees at UMass Lowell and to accomplish this at 24 years old.”
The twins shared everything growing up — a bedroom, clothes and friends. They took classes together at Lowell High School and even enjoyed the same sports, including dance, volleyball and softball.
“I am truly lucky that my sister is my best friend,” Rachel said.
While they don’t know whether they are fraternal or identical twins, Rachel is quick to point out that she’s two minutes older.
“We look similar, so someday we’ll get a DNA test,” she said.
It’s no surprise the power of the twin bond extended to their chosen major of public health.
“When it came time to attend college, I was genuinely interested in health sciences because of a public health class I took in high school,” said Rachel, who learned from a classmate that UMass Lowell offered a public health program. She pointed specifically to classes about infectious disease, environmental health and policy as what she wanted to focus on in higher education.
Although the sisters applied to other colleges, UMass Lowell made the most sense because of the quality of the academics and the affordability, they said.
“Public health is the career for us, and UMass Lowell was the best place for us to earn our degrees,” Rachel said.
During the pandemic, the sisters performed COVID-19 surveillance testing on campus, conducted contact tracing, and packaged and distributed take-home tests. Throughout their six years on campus, the Mains sisters worked to help pay for their education. Both had jobs in various offices on campus, including Life Safety and Emergency Management, Financial Aid and the Wellness Center.
While on campus, Brenda worked as a graduate student grader for public health associate professor Leland Ackerson, which reinforced concepts she learned as an undergraduate.
“Brenda has always been thorough, accurate, dedicated and honest in assessing the work of the undergraduate students, which I oversee,” said Ackerson, who has had the twins in undergraduate and graduate courses. “Brenda and Rachel have always been very engaged in class, sharing their ideas and opinions in a meaningful way, which inspired their peers to participate in class.”