The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ella Reed ’21 Reflects on Her Time Triple-Majoring at Commonwealth Honors College

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Ella Reed ’21 jumped right into her academic studies when she first came to the University of Massachusetts. Now with only weeks left until her graduation, Reed reflects on her time as an Honors student and an anthropology, Spanish, and biology triple major.

During her freshman year, Reed became involved in a biology research lab. While she valued the experience, especially so early in her college career, she realized that she did not want to pursue biology beyond her academic studies and began to explore other fields.

“I added Spanish, and then halfway through my college career added anthropology and found that that’s where my true passions lie,” Reed said.

While each of her majors are focused in three disparate fields, she sees one major as being the common denominator: “I think that biology and Spanish both sort of converge into anthropology.”

Reed explained, “There is, of course, biological anthropology, and I've come to anthropology from that angle. It's really interesting to see this whole other perspective of biology that emphasizes the influence of environment, and looks at evolution in humans, and looks at culture, and looks at social constructs and doesn't see genetics as the be-all-end-all of what we are. And I think that's an important contribution."

She continued, “And then from Spanish, I was kind of getting toward linguistics and linguistic anthropology because the Spanish courses I've taken have been a lot of linguistics and sometimes socio-linguistic-oriented courses. So I feel like anthropology was almost inevitable.”

Reed immersed herself in academics, becoming a teaching assistant for Spanish courses on language and culture, a biology course on population genetics, and an anthropology first-year seminar.

During her sophomore and junior years, she enrolled in the Police Cadet Program, run by the UMass Police Department in which students work with the UMPD and Resident Hall Security to help with policing the campus and engage in law enforcement training. Although Reed was unable to work as a police cadet during her senior year due to the pandemic, her cadet experience served as inspiration for her Honors Thesis on campus policing.

She is currently working on her Honors Thesis with Assistant Professor Lynnette Arnold, with whom Reed took ANTHRO 360: Methods in Linguistic Anthropology—a course Reed credits as being her “favorite class ever.”

She used her newfound expertise in participant observation and interviewing from Professor Arnold’s course for her thesis research on UMass police cadets and their role on campus.

“I’m really lucky I’ve had the support of a great professor. Every week I meet up with her and we talk, and she’s been a great help along the way,” Reed said. “She’s someone who I can talk to about the methodologies that I’m using because she does the same kind of work.”

Emphasizing the importance of being interested and invested in a thesis topic, Reed said, “Make sure that [your thesis topic] is something that you really care about, that you’re willing to think about pretty consistently for a good year.”

“I started it a little bit naively not knowing what it would entail. It’s important to give yourself the time that you need to do your thesis, and find a really great professor to work with who’s going to support you,” Reed added.

Reed encourages Honors students to take advantage of all of the resources the Honors College has to offer, such as the smaller class sizes, advisors and mentors, and the learning experiences unique to the Honors Thesis journey.

“I know you can do a thesis in other ways, but the Honors Thesis is a very formalized [process], and I don't think I would choose to do one if I didn't feel like it was a part of my experience.”

Reed particularly enjoyed the smaller Honors courses, and the opportunities she had to engage in smaller group and one-on-one discussions with her professors and fellow Honors students.

“Especially at the very beginning of my college experience, when I didn’t know what I was doing, it was great to be in the small classes, like Ideas that Change the World, to have some time to get together with other students and have discussions and just understand what college could be for me,” Reed said. “It was nice to make the university smaller from the very beginning when I needed that the most.”

When asked what advice she would give both prospective and current Honors students, Reed said, “Don’t be afraid to go for it and try something new.”

Reed continued, “Just as you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and to commit to things that terrify you and excite you, I think you should also be willing to quit things when you realize that they aren’t working for you. I stopped working in that lab, I have two ‘W’s’ on my transcript and I have no regrets about that at all, except for maybe aesthetic ones, because that’s what happens when you try things, and then you don’t have to continue to give things your time and effort when they don’t serve you."

Over the winter break, Reed was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and says that her experience with being on the spectrum has impacted her college career, and has been related to both her strengths and weaknesses.

“I’ve gone through a lot of my college career not having this diagnosis and feeling like I just had a lot of character flaws that made everything harder … I got as far as I did, but it was honestly painful and I experienced a lot of burnout throughout the process because I was doing three majors. I’m only now realizing that a lot of those difficulties with executive function and being able to balance my workload in a reasonable way related to the way my brain works.”

Reed said, “Most of all, [the diagnosis has] let me be kinder to myself ... you realize that you are a certain way because of the way your brain works and not because you're a lazy person. It's easier to live with yourself, I think.”

She now receives accommodation through UMass Disability Services, which she says has been a “lifesaver,” especially in terms of assignment extensions.

After she graduates from UMass in May, Reed intends to continue her academic studies in graduate school and earn a PhD. She hopes to become a professor and anthropologist “likely somewhere at the intersection of linguistic and cultural anthropology," she said.