Senior Profile: Saliha Bayrak '23

Saliha BayrakWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
My favorite memories at school have to do with experiencing the local music scene at UMass, going to band shows at houses, music venues, or even some on campus, with friends. It has been such a fun, unique experience. 

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
Throughout my experience at UMass, I've tried to have a hand in multiple different student organizations, while remaining especially dedicated to a few areas. This has transformed my college experience from what could've been an aimless four years to something that I actively shaped. I have worked in a research lab for 2 years, assisting in research in cognitive developmental psychology, and now leading my own study on the impacts of school diversity for my honors thesis. I have also been involved with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian as a writer and editor for 4 years. Being involved in these activities, and having leadership roles, has allowed me to feel like I am not completely helpless to all that is around me, and that I have some agency in this world, and it has helped me learn that my abilities in writing and communicating could be used to create impact.

Photo from the annual Collegian Alumni Event
Photo from the annual Collegian Alumni Event

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
Classes like Community Journalism with Professor Nick McBride have significantly shaped my college experience. I have been working with McBride since my freshman year and have been a teaching assistant for the past year. This class was the first time I had experienced such a radically different learning environment, where the students led the classroom discussion and dictated the material. In this class, we learn about inequalities in the educational system and a different pedagogical approach to learning and teaching journalism with a mentorship element with high school students in Springfield. Community Journalism has not only fostered an environment where I can learn from both the wisdom of McBride and my peers, but it has allowed me to improve my skills in working with adolescents and informed my understanding and passion for diverse and equitable classrooms. I also want to thank my lab director Tara Mandalaywala and my graduate student advisor Yuchen Tian for pushing me to work so hard. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
My advice to incoming students: try everything, but don't force anything. When you get on campus, try to be involved with a bunch of different student organizations. Odds are, unless you're really lucky, you're not going to find your community and niche right away. If something doesn't feel right, you don't have to stick with it. If you try 10 different things, you will eventually find a community of people you feel at home with, and something that sparks and carries a passion for you throughout your college experience. 

Tell us about research you’ve been involved in or your honors thesis:
For my honors thesis, I am leading a study called School Segregation and Race Related Stereotypes about Social Status. I am looking at the impacts of school segregation and whether exposure to diversity on a racial and economic level in schools (the proportion of minorities in a child's school, the proportion of students who use free or reduced lunch etc.) impacts children's expression of racial stereotypes about social status. l am also looking at how exposure to diversity impacts what children pay attention to and remember. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is what I've learned from my peers, and that you should always talk to the person you're sitting next to. For many people, college is the first time they'll be in a room with people from such diverse backgrounds and life experience, and you'll most likely learn more from conversations with your classmates than textbooks and lectures. 

What is next for you?
I'm not quite sure. Right after graduation, I'll be doing a 10 day training with the Politico Journalism Institute. After that, I want to spend some time with some friends and family in my home country of Turkey before I commit to a job. I'm looking to potentially spend the summer working at a camp with kids and adolescents. For the long term, working as a writer at a magazine is my dream.