On April 5, Chemical Engineering (ChE) major Cory Thomas of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, was honored as the 2017 UMass Amherst Male Winter Scholar-Athlete. During his highly productive undergraduate education at UMass Amherst, Thomas has run several of the fastest times in the history of the university, maintained a 3.2 GPA in the challenging ChE curriculum, completed two demanding internships, and devoted himself to pursuing a pharmaceutical engineering career motivated by his mother’s spirited fight to overcome cancer.
“Cory is one of these unique types that is inspiring to everyone he meets, including his college professors,” said ChE Professor Shelly Peyton at the awards ceremony on April 5. “It’s been inspiring these last couple of years to watch his creativity, his ingenuity blossom…and knowing how many directions he’s been pulled in by his [family’s problems] and obviously being great on the track. And I think it’s obvious that Cory is one of these people that’s going to change the world someday.”
Thomas is currently a senior finishing his B.S. in Chemical Engineering with a concentration in Biochemical Engineering. He will be enrolling in the Master's of Pharmaceutical Sciences program at UMass Lowell to develop a more well-rounded education for a career in process development. His academic focuses are in biochemistry and bioengineering and his industrial experience is in downstream process development. See Cory Thomas' LinkedIn profile »
On the track Thomas is one of the best middle-distance runners ever to compete for UMass Amherst. He has run the mile in 4:07.78 (fourth fastest in UMass history) and so far has excellent marks of 3:52 in the 1500 meters and 1:52 in the 800 meters. He has also participated on the second-fastest UMass indoor distance-medley relay team, the fourth and fifth fastest indoor 4x800-meter relay teams, and the second and third fastest outdoor 4x800-meter relay teams. And his season isn’t even finished yet.
But all his achievements in the classroom and on the track pale by comparison to the impact of his mother’s three-year-long battle with cancer, which literally changed the course of his life and is shaping his whole future.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration,” Thomas said at the awards ceremony. “During my sophomore year, my mom sat me down and told me she had cancer. Ever since that day, I knew what I wanted to do. I was going to get a chemical engineering degree so I could get into the pharmaceutical field by developing novel medicines to help get people through their struggles.”
Questing after that noble cause, Thomas squeezed two key internships into his busy schedule as an award-winning scholar-athlete: first, he worked at Hannaford Food & Drug as a Pharmacy Technician in 2015; and in 2016 he worked as a Biologics Process Development Engineer at Takeda Oncology.
Beyond those accomplishments, and perhaps even more importantly, Thomas practiced the unselfishness and compassion inspired by his parents by serving on the UMass Student-Athlete Advisory Counsel and also by acting as an unofficial on-the-track counselor for his teammates.
“One of the qualities of Cory is that he has the ability to recognize people on our team and find a way to get to them when he senses that they’re in a little bit of trouble and offer this quiet leadership, like an older brother to a younger brother,” said Head UMass Track Coach Ken O’Brien. “He’s also piled up some great performances for us, he’s very very valuable in terms of points. I’ll remember those, but in all honestly what everyone else on the team will remember is what they got from Cory in terms of conferences, comradery, and leadership.”
At that same awards ceremony, Thomas offered a tribute to all his mentors in the ChE department and College of Engineering. “After I opened up with everything that’s happened to me, it’s been truly amazing how everyone that makes up this [Chemical Engineering] Department has really helped me…to really follow my dreams of helping out other people. It’s been a beautiful experience here, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
As Thomas continues his higher education at UMass Lowell, he will leave his mark on UMass Amherst with his athletic feats, scholarship, unselfish attitude, perseverance, motivation, and sincerity. He represents everything that the UMass College of Engineering hopes to instill in its students. (May 2017)