Cultural Immersion Satisfies Student Leader

Abel Ortiz in Peru
Friday, September 9, 2011

“UMass is a big place, and it’s true you can get lost in the crowd,” says Abel Ortiz ’11 (anthropology/Spanish), who will be graduating after the fall semester. “But as soon as you find that balance between classes and extracurricular activities, that’s when you really love being on campus. It’s great to be at one of the best schools in the United States and still be only two hours from my home in South Boston. It’s enough distance, giving me more space to be independent.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Ortiz says his experience on campus has been “sweet” in that he’s increased his “knowledge of the world tenfold” and had “great one-on-one relationships with many professors.” He has earned a certificate in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies and since his first year has been part of many cultural groups—ALANA Caucus, Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, CASA Dominicana General Body, president of Boricuas Unidos, among several others. Ortiz has also been a member of the SBS Dean’s Student Advisory Council. “I know it’s impossible to do everything, but I’m always looking to do more!”

Professor Ray La Raja (political science) says, “Abel is among the most mature and insightful students I’ve met. His comments in my Introduction to American Politics course were typically thoughtful and showed an agile mind. I often call him ‘the mayor’ because he seems to know every student on campus, regardless of race, ethnicity, or political creed.”

Attending college, Ortiz says, wouldn’t be possible without state and federal grants and UMass scholarships. He holds a job in the Events Office, scheduling rooms in the Campus Center and Student Union to make up the cost differential.

Last summer Ortiz was in Lamas, Peru for six weeks, following up on a weeklong Alternative Spring Break experience, thanks in part to an Ansin Study Abroad Fellowship. “Without this scholarship I would not be participating in this great learning opportunity in the high Amazon,” Ortiz says. “I’m knee-deep in the culture. Spending time in indigenous communities, I’m learning what people do, how they live and the issues that affect them—like pollution, land erosion, and deforestation. What blows my mind is the simplicity of their lives, how they embrace life and nature, and their respect for what helps them survive. Certainly, this experience will influence how I think about my future and how I will see the world.”

Choosing anthropology as a major, Ortiz says, fulfilled many of his interests. “I’m all about helping people, learning about other cultures, exploring the world with an anthropological eye, and developing a broader outlook when it comes to different people around the world,” Ortiz says. He chose Spanish as a second major because “it improves my writing and reading skills in my first language.”

After graduation Ortiz expects to look for a job related to cultural anthropology, possibly helping with research, Cultural management or at least being able to land a job and working towards cultural anthropology in other ways.