Alliam Ortiz forged a strong relationship with her faculty mentor, psychology professor UnJa Hayes, both on and off the field. They have conducted neuroscience research together and are also rugby teammates.

Alliam Ortiz

Year of Graduation: 

A native of nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, Alliam Ortiz always knew she would attend UMass Amherst. At 11 years old, while visiting family friends in Amherst, she went on a bike ride with a few others. From a hilltop she spied a cluster of buildings that she took to be a small city. “That’s not a city, that’s UMass!” one friend informed her. “And,” her father added, “that’s where you’ll be going to college.”


During her first year, commuting to campus every day, Alli felt disoriented. “I didn’t know anybody here or where my classes were,” she says. “Back then I thought of UMass as a stepping stone to medical school and becoming a doctor. Now I know that it’s much more than that.”


Alli joined Commonwealth Honors College. “It was very inviting,” she recalls. “The College’s members all share a similar goal: to master their areas of interest and to explore every opportunity. Commonwealth Honors College always made me feel more secure and special in this large university.”


Early on, Alli made a strong connection with her advisor. “No matter my major,” she says, “I could meet with an honors advisor. It helped knowing that I had access to so much guidance and opportunity.” Over time, Alli also developed a strong and enduring connection to her faculty mentor, Psychology professor UnJa Hayes. “We have a lot in common,” Alli says fondly. “She even joined my rugby team in Springfield.” At a national conference of the Society for Neuroscience, the two of them presented their findings on why female prairie voles shift from being infanticidal before giving birth to becoming maternal after delivery—research that could have applications for understanding human post-partum behavior. Now, as a senior completing a second degree and applying to medical schools, Alli says, “I don’t really want to go. UMass is a part of me and something that matters to me.”