Hailing from Knoxville, Tenn., Ashley Everson entered college wanting a fresh experience in a new place far from home. This desire led her to the University of Massachusetts Amherst Commonwealth Honors College, where she’ll graduate with a dual degree in social thought/political economy and Afro-American studies, focusing primarily on Latin American and Caribbean studies. Ashley’s interest in the field wasn’t always the case, however. 

“When I first came to the university, I was set on being a lawyer,” said Ashley. “I knew that I wanted to go to law school…to practice immigration law and help black immigrants acclimate to the United States and get different legal procedures. Throughout my studies, I realized that wasn’t really my calling.” 

After taking prerequisite honors courses, such as “History of the Caribbean” with Professor Agustin Lao-Montes, Ashley felt she found her true career calling. Completing a final research paper focusing on the life of Amy Jacques Garvey, the second wife of Jamaican-born journalist and political leader Marcus Garvey, Ashley’s project directly led her to choosing a path of research instead of law. 

“I thought I could make the most impact as a researcher,” explained Ashley, “so now I want to pursue a Ph.D. in Africana studies and hopefully become a professor one day.” 

Building a relationship with Professor Lao-Montes as well as other CHC advisors helped Ashley pursue a Multidisciplinary Honors Thesis. Incorporating both of her majors and courses in other departments, Ashley expanded her senior project from what she learned in Lao-Montes’ class, allowing her the freedom to incorporate her own interests in her thesis. Her thesis focuses on each of the wives of Marcus Garvey—Amy Jacques as well as Amy Ashwood Garvey—and their activism in the black liberation movement. 

Ashley credits Multidisciplinary Honors for her discovery of an ideal career path.  

“I was able to take classes in a lot of different departments, so I did take an upper-level course in my department on the history of race and labor. That helped me learn that there’s so many different facets of black life and black activism…I wanted to begin researching and become one of those pioneers.” 

Originally visiting Professor Lao-Montes to discuss class curriculum, Ashley found that his generous availability helped her refine and articulate her ideas, with Lao-Montes eventually becoming Ashley’s thesis sponsor. 

“I consider him one of my most important mentors, not just a professor,” said Ashley. “He’s helped me navigate a lot of things on campus. He’s helped me apply to different fellowships, different research grants, and helped me to maximize my time and my potential.” 

Ashley’s heritage has also been one of the driving forces for her decision to study Garvey and Afro-American studies.  

“I decided to study this as it’s really close to my heart as the descendant of Caribbean people and a black woman,” she continued. “It was through my studies that I realized there’s a lot of notable black activists working for a number of communities, so it was really important for me to study those things.” 

Coming full circle, Ashley brought her interest in Afro-American studies back to Knoxville with her last summer, where she interned at Girls Inc., which promotes girls education and livelihood throughout the United States.  

“It was so rewarding to me because I was able to see my community in a way I was never able to before,” says Ashley. “I was able to see girls like myself growing up and trying to help them succeed.” 

Choosing a new career path wasn’t what Ashley expected when enrolling at UMass in 2016, but she appreciates the Honors College for its flexibility in allowing her to pursue and accomplish unique career goals. Entering UMass with one specific goal in mind, Ashley’s track through the Honors College helped her follow where her true interests lie and get the most of her college experience.