Hadiya Williams on the UMass campus / Photo Credit: Matthew Medeiros / University of Massachusetts Amherst
Hadiya Williams ’18 came to the University of Massachusetts to prepare for medical school, but she found a different path thanks to a network of inspiring mentors. She recently changed her minor in Anthropology to a major, and once she completes her undergraduate work she’ll continue at UMass another year to earn a master’s in public policy (MPP) through the accelerated master’s program.
“One of my biggest mentors at UMass is Dr. Alex Deschamps (Associate Professor for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). I met her my freshman year when I reached out to her at the recommendation of my residence director for support for some things I was going through,” says Williams.
“I kept in touch with her and even started working for her my sophomore year. She is always ready to give advice and tough love when I need it. She has taught me so much from professionalism to academic success and everything in between. It is truly inspiring to a see a Black Caribbean woman like me who has accomplished so much,” she adds.
Similarly, Williams, who is a student in Commonwealth Honors College (CHC), ended up declaring an Anthropology major through a required course that fueled an unexpected interest in the subject.
“I didn't know much about anthropology prior to that course, but after the first class, I was intrigued. I took another class over a summer session out of pure interest, and after that I wanted to keep taking anthropology courses and decided to make it a minor. Now as a senior, I have completed my primary major and have enough room to turn my anthropology minor into a major,” she explains.
Dean Robinson, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, was also a key mentor for Williams. She worked with him on her honors thesis, which examined health inequalities among African-Americans. In the process of researching it, Williams realized she was becoming more and more interested in health policy. When she wrapped up her thesis, Robinson recommended she apply to the accelerated MPP program in the UMass School of Public Policy, where she was accepted.
While she had many mentors along her path, Williams feels students who are on the fence about changing their major or pursuing an accelerated master’s can learn a lot from talking with both students and faculty.
“Talk to students who are doing what you are considering. Learn about their pathway and see if you could see yourself there. It might sound scary, but also meet with the faculty in the program and ask questions. Most people will be more than willing to talk with you because someone has most likely done it for them when they were in your shoes,” she explains.
“If after all of that, if you are still unsure, apply anyway. You have nothing to lose and it gives you a little more time to decide. Lastly, make the decision for yourself; don't make the decision for anyone else. I had a lot of people tell me I should just apply to medical school and not ‘waste my time’ with a policy degree. Had I listened to them, it would have been such a regret. I'm thrilled with my program and my learning. I can't imagine it any other way,” Williams adds.
She sees a lot to look forward to in the future. First, during spring 2018, Williams is studying abroad in Cusco, Peru.
“I'm looking forward to finishing up my Anthropology degree with some really cool culture and archaeology courses. Also, I'll be going with my best friend, which is quite exciting,” she notes.
Williams is also excited about the possibilities for her career after she completes her MPP.
“I'm very excited to see what the future has in store. I think my well-rounded UMass experience will put me in a really great place to do the work I am passionate about. I've been able to learn about health from the science and social perspectives in a truly multi-disciplinary method which, in my opinion, is absolutely crucial to holistic health. My education will give me plenty of leverage to ‘fight the good fight’,” she says.
-- By Matthew Medeiros for the UMass Amherst College of Social & Behavioral Sciences