Student Story

Enjoying the Opportunities at Simmons: From Studying Abroad to Internships to Research

Estela Raya-Fouts Profile Photo

“My favorite Simmons memory may have to be those special moments I’ve shared with prospective students that show them just how much I love this community.”

An interview with Simmons senior Estela Raya-Fouts ’24.

What are the most impactful things you have done over the last four years?

Some of the most impactful experiences I’ve had over the last four years have been my internships at non-profit organizations. Over two different summers, I interned with the International Institute of New England (IINE), a refugee and immigrant resettlement agency. In both the context of employment and community services, I worked with case managers and clients to initiate the Reception & Placement process through airport pickup, home visits, and social services enrollment. I also had the opportunity to translate documents for Spanish-speaking clients and to interpret intake interviews. I was able to connect with people from all around the world and learn about identity formation through migration. Through both these experiences and my coursework in political science and migration studies, I have developed a passion for working with immigrant populations. I plan to pursue a career in immigration services in the non-profit sector, with aspirations to attend law school in the future to become an immigration attorney.

Did your course of study entail studying abroad?

I have been fortunate enough to participate in various study abroad programs during my time at Simmons, including a political science travel course to Athens, Greece, and Sicily, Italy through Emmanuel College; a six-week internship teaching English in Mendoza, Argentina; and a semester-long immersion program in Granada, Spain. The flexibility of my political science and Spanish majors made it easy to travel and study different cultural and social topics in other countries. In particular, my semester in Spain served as the culmination of both my Spanish studies and a personal dream to return to the city where my father was born and raised. Having grown up in a Spanish-speaking household in the US, away from the culture and the language, my time in Spain allowed me to connect with a part of myself I had not previously known, as well as family and traditions that are now incredibly important to me. The experiences I had during my studies abroad taught me about independence, learning from others with different perspectives, and following one’s passion. Now that I’ve caught the travel bug, I hope to continue exploring the world with the lessons I learned at Simmons!

Please explain any research project(s) that you pursued at Simmons.

My senior project, “The Consequences of Coloniality: Searching for a Queer Decolonial Feminism in Latin America,” explores decolonial feminism and queer theory in Latin America to analyze the gender and race hierarchy established during colonialism and understand the modern configuration of gender. Before colonialism, the normative, binary, gender categories that we use today did not exist in Indigenous communities. By constructing the concepts of womanhood and manhood, the colonial project instituted a hierarchy of gender, placing Indigenous women and enslaved women at the bottom. I look at different proposals of decolonial feminism and analyze the ways in which they have found success through resistance in contemporary Latin America. I argue that decolonial feminism could be strengthened with the integration of queer theory, opening up to new possibilities and theories that could pave the way to a more inclusive resistance to colonial structures in the future.

Note: Raya-Fouts received a Senior Scholar award for this research.

What was your favorite course at Simmons and why?

My favorite course at Simmons was a political science course called Feminism and Capitalism (POLS 233), taught by Associate Professor Lena Zuckerwise, that I took in the fall of my sophomore year. It was my first semester on campus after COVID-19 and this class offered a challenge to both my academic abilities and social beliefs about feminism. Through readings about neoliberal feminism and the construction of US capitalism, I was able to reframe the way I see the world and the institutions that make up our society. As a discussion-based class, students were encouraged to share their thoughts in a big circle and dissect the readings covering mommy bloggers, emotional-domestic labor, and sex work. This class sparked my interest in feminist theory, motivating me to add a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies and take as many theory classes as I could for the rest of my time at Simmons.

Who was your most inspirational professor or mentor at Simmons and why?

My most inspirational mentor at Simmons has been Associate Professor Lena Zuckerwise, my political science advisor and the chair of the Department. In addition to teaching some of my favorite classes, including Feminism and Capitalism, Dr. Zuckerwise has always encouraged me to pursue my academic interests. When I came to her last semester looking for a way to study the intersections of feminist and decolonial theory, she was happy to advise my independent study and worked closely with me to find a way to explore the theories in which I was interested. In her classes, she urges students to craft their own paper prompts in an effort to help students find a topic about which they are passionate. This is a message I have taken with me since then, having learned that researching something I am passionate about will actually be fun to write. Finally, Dr. Zuckerwise’s own scholarship on the politics of race and incarceration in the US inspires students like me who have only just discovered the lure of political theory and the ways it influences our lives.

What is your favorite Simmons memory?

I have so many! I am a Campus Ambassador. During tours, we talk about a Simmons moment, either a time that we felt connected to the school or a special memory. I tell the story of how I met my group of friends during my sophomore orientation (my first year was completely online), and how our teamwork on a scavenger hunt around campus bonded us for the next three years. However, as I’ve given more tours over the years, and have even seen some of the attendees on campus as first-year students, my favorite Simmons memory may have to be those special moments I’ve shared with prospective students that show them just how much I love this community. Sometimes on the tours, I feel that click with someone who tells me Simmons has just gotten its newest Shark!

How has Simmons taught you to be a leader?

Simmons has taught me that leadership does not necessarily need a title or position to be impactful. Before coming to Simmons, I thought I knew what leadership was from holding president positions in high school for my class and student government. While those traditional types of leadership are important and effective, I have seen the way that my friends and peers have grown in their leadership skills from the coursework they complete and activities in which they engage. As a women-centered institution, I believe that faculty have the opportunity to uplift marginalized voices in ways that may not be possible at other universities. In my opinion, this cultivates an environment where intersectional scholarship and leadership is valued at all levels in the university. This perspective on leadership is one that I will carry with me as I enter the workforce and other higher education institutions in the future.

What advice do you have for current and incoming Simmons students?

Enjoy this community! You won’t find it anywhere else. I think I take for granted the welcoming and empowering community here at Simmons, and now that I am graduating, I realize how special of an experience it has been. I am ready for the next chapter but I will always value friendships and connections I have made here. Savor it while it lasts!