Johana Reyes ’11 earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal in Lima, Peru, and wanted to continue her education.
She wanted to specialize in community social psychology, but no university in Peru offered a graduate degree in the subject.
Inspired by an uncle who had been a Fulbright Scholar, she also wanted the experience of studying abroad.
“Learning not just what you learn in your classes, but learning about a whole new culture, it’s a life-changing experience,” she says.
As an undergraduate, Reyes had done a practicum at Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes, a nonprofit in Lima that advocates for and assists women domestic workers and combats child labor. She continued working there after graduation while applying, with assistance from the U.S. embassy, to top master’s programs in the U.S.
Reyes was accepted at UMass Lowell in 2009 and granted an Education USA Scholarship to come here. The courses, mentors, and teaching and research experiences she gained boosted her confidence and equipped her to take on even greater responsibilities when she returned to Peru and her job, she says.
But the best part about the program was the community in the community social psychology program, she says.
“The people in my class and the previous class were very encouraging and supportive of each other. We’re still friends,” she says. “It was such a healthy, encouraging and nurturing environment, to the point where you feel like you’re unstoppable.”
In fact, Reyes felt so unstoppable that in 2016, she and her husband, entomologist Geoffrey Gallice, co-founded a nonprofit, Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon. Their organization aims to preserve biodiversity in nonprotected areas of the rainforest in southeastern Peru through research, reforestation and education, in partnership with local communities that depend on the rainforest for their livelihood.
“That feeling of being unstoppable contributed to my setting higher and higher goals for my professional life,” Reyes says. “Even when you struggle, it’s good to have that feeling that you have people who care about you and people to go to.”
Some of those key people were two professors for whom she served as both teaching and research assistants. She worked with Assoc. Prof. Jana Sladkova on a study of undocumented immigrants and with Prof. Ivy Ho on sleep deprivation research.
She volunteered on a solar panel study in Peru led by Mechanical Engineering Prof. Emeritus John Duffy, and then got a job as a research assistant at the Center for Women and Work. There, she worked with Prof. Meg Bond and other faculty on workforce diversity in community health centers in Massachusetts.
Bond also mentored and advised Reyes on her master’s thesis research into the relationship between community involvement and well-being among residents of a subsidized housing complex in Lowell where people spoke English, Spanish and Khmer.
“I learned so much from her,” Reyes says of Bond. “Meg taught me the most important concept: Whatever work you do, you need to base your action on research, and you need to create programs based on research.
“Meg used to say that you need to look at the different dimensions of a particular topic when you’re trying to analyze something. Especially when you’re younger, you’re eager to go directly into action, and sometimes you just need to step back and reflect on things in order to make something that’s comprehensive.”
That’s a lesson and a legacy that Reyes now passes on as a mentor to university students who intern with the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon and through the alliance’s educational programs – thanks to her experiences at UMass Lowell.
“It was amazing,” she says. “It was inspirational in a way that will carry on forever.”