Nathalie Amazan of North Baldwin, New York, is a Commonwealth Honors College student with majors in political science and legal studies, a minor in Afro-American studies, and a specialization letter in social justice.
Passionate about dismantling systems of oppression and social inequity and creatively rethinking modes of justice, Amazan has harnessed her intelligence, voice, and drive to change the world for the better. Amazan took full advantage of the opportunities at UMass to develop her skills as a leader and advocate. She served as senator and vice president of the Student Government Association, interned at Student Legal Services, worked as a teaching assistant in Afro-American studies, and supported LGBTQ+ students in her work with the Stonewall Center. Most notably, Amazan co-founded the UMass Prison Abolition Collective, led an initiative to introduce restorative justice to campus, and has spoken on both topics at conferences nationally. Amazan also made time to draw on her creative side, acting with Shaha: The Storytellers and performing in student productions, while winning awards for her poetry.
Outside of UMass, Amazan further built a foundation for a career as a social justice lawyer, interning for U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas and the American Civil Liberties Union on their Smart Justice campaign. After graduating, she will continue her legal advocacy work and writing while preparing to enter law school in the fall of 2022.
Racquel Bitar of Paxton, Massachusetts, graduates from Commonwealth Honors College with a degree in microbiology, a minor in anthropology, and a culture, health, and science certificate.
Bitar spent her career at UMass Amherst preparing to be a doctor, not only by mastering the science, but also by cultivating her skills as a mentor and leader. She mentored an adolescent girl through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and took further steps to help children at risk by volunteering as a guardian ad litem. Bitar supported fellow students as a resident assistant, a member of the Arab Cultural Association’s executive board, a teaching assistant in biology classes, a career peer advisor in the College of Natural Sciences, and in the STEM Ambassadors program, she helped pre-med students prepare for the MCAT exam.
In her first research assistantship, Bitar studied gender differences and learning comprehension of songbirds, but thanks to her experience with BBBS, she wanted to learn more about supporting adolescents who struggle with social and economic issues. She joined a sociology research group studying these subjects, and wrote her thesis on how socioeconomic status, puberty timing, and risky sexual behavior influence later-life educational attainment. To further prepare for medical school, Bitar worked as an EMT on an ambulance crew and as a medical scribe. She will continue the latter work after graduation as she applies to medical schools.
Christopher Clark of Westfield, Massachusetts, a Commonwealth Honors College student, earned degrees in environmental science and in German and Scandinavian Studies with a concentration in STEM-German.
When he joined the Timme-Laragy Lab as a sophomore, Clark couldn’t know that his work would significantly impact his home and family. In his research, Clark realized that the toxic chemicals he studied—PFAS—were the same that had contaminated his hometown’s water. In response, Clark joined Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves (WRAFT) to support PFAS testing, research, and remediation. He initiated collaborations with UMass scientists, who submitted several multi-million-dollar grant applications to address PFAS exposure. In addition, his lobbying with WRAFT pushed the commonwealth to allocate over $20 million in assistance to PFAS-contaminated communities and establish stricter PFAS standards.
Clark skillfully balanced his advocacy work with a full academic and campus life, studying in Germany, co-authoring two published papers, and writing a thesis on PFAS toxicity. He was also a STEM Ambassadors mentor, supporting students from traditionally marginalized communities, and served as the Student Government Association’s chief of staff and undersecretary of sustainability. Thanks to his scholarship and his mentorship, Clark won several prestigious awards, including the US Department of State’s Gilman Scholarship.
Next fall, Clark will continue his work addressing the remediation and regulation of toxic contamination as an environmental health sciences master’s student at the University of Michigan and will eventually pursue a doctorate in the field.
Jonathan DeMarco of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, graduates with a degree in civil and environmental engineering.
DeMarco is committed to using his education to better the world. Active in Engineers Without Borders, he served as vice president of communications and traveled to Kenya to help build water-related infrastructure. As an engineering student ambassador, DeMarco addressed the needs of fellow engineering students, and as a course assistant, he helped peers master probability and statistics. DeMarco was also active in many community service activities, including Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, and MLK Days of Giving Back.
After a life-changing semester studying in France, DeMarco was determined to help other engineers go abroad. He created weekly Engineering Essentials information sessions in the International Programs Office (IPO) to advise engineers on managing international education and served as an alumni ambassador for his study abroad program. DeMarco’s efforts made UMass Amherst one of the top schools for engineering study abroad. To ensure that international students at UMass also had a positive experience, he was an IPO Buddy, helping them adjust to college in the United States.
Having refined his professional interests interning with engineering and construction firms, and passionate about delivering clean water to those who lack access, DeMarco is set to begin work as an environmental remediation engineer at CDM Smith, while pursuing a master’s degree in environmental engineering at UMass.
Deanna Ferrante of Carver, Massachusetts, is a Commonwealth Honors College graduate who majored in psychological and brain sciences, minored in education, and earned a letter of specialization in developmental disabilities and human services.
During orientation, Ferrante was inspired by the UMatter at UMass campaign and wanted to help cultivate an inclusive community at UMass. She quickly became involved with residential life governance and later served as a resident assistant. Ferrante also worked as a teaching assistant for social psychology and a learning assistant for student-athletes.
Throughout her undergraduate career, Ferrante continuously found ways to support the disability community. At the UMass Assistive Technology Center, she trained students on assistive technology and composed a handbook of university-offered assistive tools. Subsequently, she interned at the National Organization on Disability where she pioneered a student ambassador program that supports college students with disabilities seeking internships and employment. These positions inspired Ferrante to launch a UMass organization, Alliance Against Ableism, which advocates for campus accessibility and educates the community on disability rights and culture.
Ferrante wrote an honors thesis entitled, “Closing the Employment Gap: Disability Inclusion in the U.S. Workforce.” After graduation, she will start her career as a human resources analyst at an asset management firm. In the future, she hopes to pursue an advanced degree in industrial-organizational psychology to further her work fostering more equitable, accessible workplaces.
Victoria Ishola of Worcester, Massachusetts, graduates with a bachelor of business administration degree in finance.
As a UMass student, Ishola had a substantial impact on the campus community. A natural leader, she made it her priority to bring students of color into activities and organizations where they hadn’t historically had a significant presence. She became the first Black woman appointed as the Student Government Association’s secretary of finance and was instrumental in reforming its financial processes. She also broke ground in 2018 as the university’s first Black homecoming queen.
Ishola was consistently a mentor to her fellow students. Her involvement with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Black Mass Communication Project, and the Black Student Union gave her a platform to educate the campus on Black issues and culture and foster community among her peers. As a resident assistant in the Partners in Education RAP, she mentored underrepresented Isenberg School of Management students and aided in their transition to college life. Ishola also taught workshops for students on financial literacy, résumé writing, and wellness.
In the immediate future, Ishola will work in the private sector, but plans to attend law school and pursue a career in corporate law.
Carl McDonald of Carmel, New York, is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with a degree in nursing.
McDonald brought compassion and drive to his nursing education and research. He focused on the challenging specialty of hospice care and his honors thesis explored how nurses can use artistic approaches to improve patient care at the end of life. Along with nursing faculty members, he co-published his work in the Journal of Nursing Education and presented at a national nursing convention, the only undergraduate to do so.
Outside of his academic work, McDonald devoted his energies to service within the campus community. He was the social actions coordinator of the Student Nurses’ Association and spent the last two years working as an RA, for which he was named the 2019-2020 Resident Assistant of the Year. He also worked for UMass admissions, both as a tour guide and in the leadership role of admissions fellow.
In addition to training at hospitals in the Pioneer Valley, McDonald landed a coveted internship at New York-Presbyterian Psychiatry, where he won an award for saving a choking patient’s life. In the short term, McDonald plans to return to New York to work as an oncology nurse. Passionate about ending the stigma around mental illness, he hopes to eventually earn an advanced degree in nursing and become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Daniela Molina Palacios of Valencia, Venezuela, is a Commonwealth Honors College student, graduating with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Having come to the United States for better educational opportunities, Molina Palacios is committed to ensuring that others have similar access. Passionate about helping students understand the science she loves, she was a teaching assistant in introductory biochemistry lab courses, and a mentor and tutor with Girls Inc. of Holyoke and the UMass Biochemistry Club, empowering underprivileged girls to excel in STEM fields. Molina Palacios also sought roles where she could advocate for the international community—particularly as a resident assistant, biochemistry academic peer advisor, and as a member of her department’s Workplace Climate Committee.
Embracing research opportunities at UMass, Molina Palacios joined a lab during her first year. She took full ownership of her thesis project studying the hypertrophy virus effects on house flies—planning, executing, and analyzing all of her experiments and results—and was invited to present her work at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting. To broaden her research and health care experience, Molina Palacios was a research intern at MIT, participated in the MIT COVID-19 Challenge, and served as a patient escort at Massachusetts General Hospital. After graduation, she will continue as a research associate at MIT, and plans to pursue an MD-PhD.
Jeremy Charles Paradie of Holliston, Massachusetts, earned a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in creative mechatronics, a multidisciplinary branch of engineering.
Paradie creates the world that he wants to see. Working on projects in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s M5 makerspace, he saw that the facility needed improvement and led a team to fully redesign it. He became the M5 manager and his dedication earned him the Scanlon Student Employee of the Year Award. Paradie also participated in the planning of the All-Campus Makerspace — the only undergraduate on the committee — and single-handedly built a makerspace planning tool that lays out the foundations of a full-scale 50,000-square-foot facility.
During his tenure at UMass, Paradie has played an important role in such groundbreaking interactive walkway projects as harvesting energy from footsteps, glow-in-the-dark gravel footprints, a motion-activated walkway installation in Boston, and interactive smart pavers. Working with Hampshire College’s Animal Behavior Robotics Lab, he redeveloped their squirrel robot, and most recently, he worked on robots that collaborate to assemble and disassemble modular robotic structures.
With every project, Paradie consistently took on the role of mentor — whether as a teaching assistant in several classes, project leader, or as a generous fellow student. He plans to continue his education in graduate school, furthering his work in electronics and robotics and his engagement in maker culture.
Timothy Scalona of Wilmington, Massachusetts, graduates from Commonwealth Honors College with a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in policy, journalism, and storytelling; a degree in political science; and a minor in Spanish.
From his start at UMass, as a first-generation student who had experienced homelessness himself, Scalona sought opportunities to advocate for vulnerable students. With the Student Government Association, Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, and the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy (CEPA), as a resident advisor, and a writer for the Daily Collegian, he worked for changes in college affordability, food insecurity, and racial justice. As a senior, Scalona cofounded UMass FLIP, the first student organization created to build community among and advocate for first-generation low-income students.
Scalona also focused on economic inequality in his scholarship and his career preparation. He wrote his thesis on the Massachusetts Emergency Assistance program, a shelter system for homeless families, and served as a research assistant for Assistant Professor of History Kevin Young, studying the race and gender composition of global elite networks. During the summers, he was a casework intern with Amherst Community Connections, assisting homeless people in accessing public and charitable services, and interned with former Massachusetts Representative Solomon-Goldstein Rose.
Next year, Scalona will begin a master of public policy degree program at UMass and then plans to pursue a law degree, hoping to continue his advocacy work as a politician or journalist.