Zayna Basma began learning outside the classroom during her very first political science course freshman year: Introduction to American Politics.
"The professor sent us out to Lowell polling stations to interview voters in the 2014 midterm elections," she says. "In every class I've taken since, from research methods to refugee policy, we're not just studying the subject - we actually do it."
Although she'd arrived at UMass Lowell without declaring a major, Basma soon decided on political science. She later joined the Honors College and picked up minors in Spanish and Arabic studies.
She's found hands-on learning opportunities every step of the way, from volunteering with Burmese refugees to doing paid research with faculty.
"Every professor in political science has their own passion they bring to the classroom," she says.
Prof. Jeffrey Gerson, who taught Basma's first class in American politics, also teaches The Politics of Sports. When Basma took it, he invited the co-founder and first captain of the Palestinian Women's National Football Team, Honey Thaljieh, to campus to speak. And knowing that Basma loved soccer and had played it in high school, Gerson went out of his way to bring Thaljieh to Basma's alma mater, Parker Charter School in Devens.
Assoc. Prof. Ardeth Thawngmung, the department chairwoman and Basma's advisor, encouraged Basma to volunteer at SayDaNar, a Lowell nonprofit for Burmese refugees. Basma began by helping children with homework and then helped to start a mentoring program that assists high school students as they make the transition to college.
"I felt so welcomed by the community at SayDaNar," Basma says. "It made me want to learn more about the issues facing refugees."
With Thawngmung's encouragement, she took a graduate course on refugee and asylum policies. Then she got a coveted internship with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the summer, working for Warren's staff specialist on immigration.
Now, as an Emerging Scholar, Basma is helping Asst. Prof. of Sociology Cheryl Llewellyn analyze how refugees are portrayed in the American media. For her Honors College thesis, she plans to research how refugee children are integrated into the Lowell public schools.
Basma says all her experiences at UMass Lowell have whetted her appetite for graduate school and a research and policy career.
"I just wish I'd started on political science sooner," she says. "There's so much more here I'd like to study."