Gabby Davis ’15, ’17 was interested in peace-making from the time she was a child in Philomath, Ind., and saw other kids being bullied and excluded at school. So Peace and Conflict Studies seemed a natural choice for a major.
“It was a calling. When I looked at everything I’d done in my life, I was always invested in social justice issues,” she says.
Davis won a scholarship to study chemistry in college, but she put her education on hold when she got married and started a family. After a divorce, she moved to Dracut and resumed her studies—first at Middlesex Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, and then at the university as a Peace and Conflict Studies major.
“Until I got involved with the Peace and Conflict Studies program, I didn’t understand the full spectrum of what peace can mean. It can mean making peace within one person or in a community, as well as globally,” she says.
Now she’s pursuing her master’s degree in the same field while juggling family responsibilities and volunteering at Made in Lowell, a nonprofit that hosts the Lowell Food and Wine Festival and other events that bring community members and local businesses together to celebrate the city’s unique culture.
Davis’ work with Made in Lowell started as a service-learning internship. After it ended—and she’d completed her language requirement by studying Spanish for six weeks in Cadiz, Spain—she volunteered to keep helping out with the nonprofits’ events.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself. One, I love working events. Two, these events can be a platform for social change because they bring together people from all parts of the city,” she says.
Now she’s embarked on a new Made in Lowell project: outfitting a trailer to record stories and images of people living in different neighborhoods. The end result will be an interactive multimedia exhibit that can travel to different community organizations and events.
The community stories project is sponsored by a Chancellor’s 2020 Challenge Grant and a UMass Lowell Community Relations grant, as well as support from the Lowell National Historical Park and local foundations.
For her master’s thesis, Davis will interview women leaders in Lowell to analyze how they contribute to community peace-building, whether it’s beautifying a neighborhood through public art, serving the homeless, helping with refugee resettlement or teaching. Next, she plans to pursue a doctorate.
“I have big dreams,” she says. “I want to study peace and gender equity with a focus on leadership development for women. I want to find opportunities to share and empower others.”