The University of Massachusetts Amherst

A member of the Commonwealth Honors College who graduated with an exceptional GPA of 4.0, Michaela Zelandi '20 transferred to UMass Amherst as a sophomore. She first declared a major in Spanish, and later added a secondary major in legal studies (SBS) after realizing she wanted to use her Spanish skills to help individuals in disadvantaged situations. “Although I came to decide on each major separately,” she explains, “they informed each other because they illuminated an overlapping career path: immigration law.”

Immigration law as a focus of Zelandi’s studies became clearer during her junior year. She studied abroad in Cusco, Peru, and with that experience “became more interested in international migration systems as a whole and how they operate.” Her interest in immigration law deepened after taking courses in legal studies and history. As a senior, she began to work on a thesis that examined “United States visas that are geared towards women, but … actually disempower women in the process.”

In addition to Zelandi’s excellent academic performance, she is “a passionate young woman” always eager to “serve people in her community, especially children and migrant women,” says Patricia Gubitosi, associate professor and undergraduate program director for Spanish and Portuguese studies, who nominated Zelandi for the Senior Leadership Award. According to Gubitosi, Zelandi was always on the lookout for internship opportunities. After working with the HFA Advising and Career Center, she volunteered at a non-profit adoption agency and interned at the district attorney’s office in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Receiving the Senior Leadership Award “validated my decision to transfer to UMass,” says Zelandi. “I didn’t feel like I fit in at my previous institution, so it became my mission to get involved at UMass and make it feel like my own.” With that motivation guiding her, Zelandi gained valuable experiences in leadership positions as an NSO leader and peer mentor. “This award also helped bring closure to my undergraduate career amidst the unexpected end of the semester,” she explains, “and for that I am very grateful!”