Veyli Ortiz Solis ’20, ’21 came to the United States from Guatemala as a child. Her parents never completed high school, but they had dreams of a better life for her and her two younger sisters.
Ortiz Solis has taken advantage of every opportunity. She excelled in her studies in the Classical Academy at Haverhill High School, earning so many college credits before graduating that she was able to complete her UMass Lowell undergraduate degree in criminal justice in three years.
The Honors College student, who minored in legal studies, also earned a perfect, 4.0 GPA, for which she received a Trustee’s Key and other awards at Commencement.
And she did so even though her father, Carlos Ortiz, died in a construction accident a week before Christmas 2018, midway through his oldest daughter’s second year of college.
His death was a heavy blow to Ortiz Solis and her family, both personally and financially. But even as she grieved, Ortiz Solis doubled down on her studies.
“He always worked really hard for us and gave everything for our family,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that nothing that he gave us would go to waste, that everything he worked for, every sacrifice that he made, would be worth it.”
She says she received lots of support from faculty and staff, who helped her find scholarships, internships and job opportunities. She won a Chancellor’s Scholarship in fall 2019, as well.
At a campus career fair, she applied to work as a behavioral technician with a child on the autism spectrum, a job that has continued through the COVID-19 pandemic. She also got a job as a resident advisor her senior year, which allowed her to live on campus for the first time.
And she found research opportunities in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies. She got a paid internship with Prof. Sheldon Zhang, the department chairman, transcribing interviews for his research into human trafficking.
Asst. Prof. Jill Portnoy advised Ortiz Solis on her Honors College research and thesis, a study on whether adverse childhood experiences lead to a lack of empathy in adults.
Although she had long considered becoming a lawyer, Ortiz Solis says those research experiences led her to focus on a different goal. Now, she wants to pursue research into the socioeconomic causes of crime with a focus on Hispanic populations, which she says have not been well-studied.
Toward that end, Ortiz Solis took three graduate classes her senior year that counted toward both her bachelor’s degree and her master’s in criminal justice, which she will complete in one more year of full-time study while applying to Ph.D. programs in sociology or criminology, including at UMass Lowell.
The university is providing her with a great education and lots of support, she says. It also provided her with resources and community through the River Hawk Scholars Academy, a program for first-year, first-generation students. The Honors College offered rigorous academics, and she embraced the challenge to push herself.
“I always love to be challenged. I feel like that’s when I do my best work, that’s when I learn the most, that’s when I grow the most,” she says. “Doing the honors thesis was really tough, but I felt like it prepared me for graduate work. Now I feel like I have the necessary tools to continue to succeed.”