Aiste Balciunaite, a senior in our Chemical Engineering Department and an outstanding rower on the UMass Amherst Women’s Rowing Team, has been chosen as the university’s 2018 Female Spring Scholar-Athlete Award winner. In the Spring of 2017, Balciunaite, whose hometown is Rosemont, Pennsylvania, helped lead UMass to its third Atlantic-10 Championship in four years as the Minutewomen received the A-10’s automatic berth to the NCAA Championships. Balciunaite was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to Darius Balciunas and Jorune Balciuniene.
Balciunaite and her male counterpart as scholar-athlete awardee, senior pole-vaulter John Chuma of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, were honored at a luncheon sponsored by the UMass Sports Luncheon Committee and held in the Berkshire Room at the Berkshire Dining Commons on Wednesday, May 2.
Balciunaite highlighted her Fall of 2017 season with a third-place finish (20:29.2) in the Women’s Club Singles at the Head of the Charles Regatta, turning in the top performance by a collegiate rower and just four seconds behind the first place boat. She had three wins in that singles event throughout the Fall. Balciunaite broke 7 minutes on her ergometer this Spring and was stroking the Varsity 8 as the Minutewomen headed into the 2018Atlantic 10 Championships, where the team finished second. Aiste has a double major - Chemical Engineering as well as Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a 3.992 Grade point average. She is also a member of the Commonwealth Honors College.
Among her honors, Balciunaite was on the 2016 Atlantic 10 All-Academic Team, the 2015 Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team, the 2015 Atlantic 10 Commissioner's Honor Roll, and she was the UMass Co-Athlete of the Week of May 6, 2015.
“It is genuine pleasure to have Aiste Balciunaite as an undergraduate researcher in my laboratory,” said Professor Maria Santore of the Polymer Science and Engineering Department. “Aside from her athletic abilities, Aiste is an intellectual powerhouse when it comes to research.
She has undertaken an independent research project on particles with engineered shapes which
she envisions to be drug delivery packages that deliver their cargos more efficiently than classical drug delivery agents, which tend to be spherical.”
Professor Santore added that “Aiste has developed her own independent research program to synthesize and study the flow behavior of rod-shaped particles. She collaborates with graduate student Molly Shave in my lab, who comments that, ‘Aiste’s dedication has resulted in remarkable progress on a difficult and time consuming project.’”
Professor Santore also explained that “Aiste is bolstering her background in biology with quantitative engineering approaches and materials synthesis to create a truly innovative delivery platform. Aiste is an amazing student, and UMass can expect long-term leadership from her as a future alumna.” (May 2018)