Melissa Loza ’20, 2020 Susan Rappaport Knafel ’52 Traveling Fellowship Winner


Tell us a little bit about the Knafel Travelling Fellowship and where it will be taking you!
The Knafel Fellowship represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage with a topic of deep personal importance and interest through international study and travel. In other words, it is the chance to study the topic of your dreams across the world. My Knafel year will focus on exploring and understanding the forms of participation and leadership of women in environmental protection in Latin America. As of now, I am planning on traveling to Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Panamá, Suriname, and Uruguay to work with civic groups and nonprofits that work in biodiversity/conservation, food justice, women's rights, indigenous rights, sustainability, and climate advocacy. 

What (or who) are the major influences in your life that have inspired you to pursue this path?
While I have been shaped by a myriad of experiences and individuals, I would say that the most influential people have been my parents who are Peruvian immigrants and have always encouraged me to appreciate and celebrate both my own cultural ancestry and that of others; Jessice Villacorte, who was the agronomist expert that I had the privilege to learn from and work with in Cusco, Perú last summer; and finally my friends and peers at Wellesley. They have continuously taught me why and how to believe in myself as a student and individual, as well as invest myself both emotionally and intellectually in the unique passions and stories of each person and community that I get to meet and learn from.

How did your time at Wellesley shape your interests, or encourage you along this path? Your professors? Career Education?
​As a first generation Peruvian-American that grew up in a majority white area where I was bullied and "othered," Wellesley became the first place where I got to experience the belonging of joining a much more diverse community. I gained the opportunity to appreciate the differences between myself and others in an entirely new, positive way. On an academic level, my Peace and Justice Studies professors truly inspired me to have faith in my interests and passions. They encouraged me to understand the questions and connections between environmental protection, human rights, and community engagement as something that was not anomalous or separate, but deeply entwined with equally large and prominent systems of inequality, exclusion, and injustice. I don't think I would have the intellectual confidence that I do if it wasn't for their continued support and guidance. And last but not least, I don't think I could have thrived at Wellesley if it wasn't for Career Education, and in particular, Ministrare Council. Through Alternative Breaks and later joining Ministrare Council, I got to meet some of my closest friends at Wellesley, work with communities on the ground that I would have otherwise not have had the opportunity to learn from, and see the relationships between service learning, community engagement, and inclusive empowerment manifest in real time. Now, I am inspired to continue seeking this type of community-based learning and change through my Knafel year.

What did you learn or gain from going through the application process?
A lot! It wasn't easy, but in preparing my application I had to think very intensely about what was profoundly important to me and how I could express and explore that passion if I had the unbridled opportunity to do so. I was able to greatly appreciate the value of talking with others to better understand myself, since our own values, interests, and perspectives can be amplified and reflected by the words and experiences of our friends and acquaintances. So in short, I learned to think more deeply to identify what is at the core of my interests, as well as understand myself better by conversing with others. 

What inspired you to take the leap and apply? Or, what would you say to encourage your peers to apply?
​Two thoughts: Why not? And, it can't hurt! Why not take the time to craft and express your dream year of international engagement? And even if you don't receive the fellowship, you still gain the valuable insight that comes from having completed deep reflection and articulation of your true hopes and dreams. For example, I applied for a similar fellowship, the Watson, and did not even make it into the most preliminary round of interviews. However, if it hadn't been for that "no," I would not have pursued the Knafel or other professional/learning opportunities. Furthermore, I truly think that not being accepted for the Watson Fellowship pushed me to think about and articulate my hopes and dreams more profoundly, which helped greatly when I applied to the Knafel.

What most excites you about this opportunity?
I am so thrilled that I will be able to learn directly from women leaders in crucial environmental projects in a diverse array of Latin American countries that I otherwise could not have ever imagined visiting. I am especially eager to travel to Suriname where I will work with Green Heritage Fund Suriname, an animal rehabilitation and biodiversity protection NGO in Paramaribo. I'm even learning some Dutch so that I am more prepared to speak with community members and NGO staff. I truly can't wait to start my Knafel year!