“I remember being 12 years old and knowing in my heart that I wanted to study theology,” says Taylor, who was raised Roman Catholic in Lowell, but began questioning religious doctrine at an early age. “I began reading Greek mythology and studying different Native American cultures and then trying to understand how all these different religions could have developed to be so intricate and detailed, to have answers to all the questions that any one person could ask – and yet be so different.”
Taylor’s life experience has helped her to develop a practical side, too. She spent four years in foster care, where she learned to be self-reliant and to advocate for her own needs. With support from family and friends, she obtained her G.E.D. after her first child was born, and then studied astronomy and social sciences at Middlesex Community College while adding to her family. She also volunteered with a nonprofit that hosts pop-up stargazing events in urban neighborhoods and as an instructor for an after-school program that combined martial arts, life skills and environmental studies.
After graduating from Middlesex with honors, Denia knew she needed to clarify her goals before transferring to UMass Lowell. She took a semester off to do just that, while getting her children settled in first grade and preschool. The opportunity to focus paid off.
“Coming into UMass Lowell, I had that mindset that I was going to work really hard and do as much as I could to learn as much as I could,” she says.
Now she’s majoring in political science
and minoring in philosophy
. She loves the way her courses, from Constitutional Law and Policy to a history class on the Civil War and Reconstruction, all deal with themes of individual rights, religion and the social good.
“It’s been truly inspiring to see how significant themes in my courses are connected,” she says.
After she graduates in December 2018, she plans to apply to law school. She’s still reaching for the stars: She also wants to earn a doctorate in political philosophy or constitutional law, preferably in Harvard University’s combined J.D.-Ph.D. program.
“I tend to be a dreamer,” she says. “I was in foster care from 14 to 18 years old, so I learned how to advocate for myself. That’s given me confidence and the persistence to reach for what is possible, even as I remain mindful of what’s practical.”