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JFK Winner Daniela Bravo-Terkia in one of her first anthropology classrooms.
May 25, 2017

From the cover of TIME to UMass Boston’s JFK winner: Daniela Bravo-Terkia a voice for immigrants


  • Boston

Daniela Bravo-Terkia knows about living life in the shadows, and she has dedicated her time at UMass Boston to making sure students like her don’t feel pressured to hide. A native of Chile, Bravo-Terkia was 12 when she came to the United States with her family in 2000. She became involved with the Student Immigrant Movement in 2009 to help undocumented youth like herself, attending protests in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

When she transferred to UMass Boston in spring 2010, her passion for helping immigrants—especially the vulnerable and undocumented—only grew. Since then, Bravo-Terkia has been a volunteer, a researcher, and a policy worker on issues related to immigrants. She appeared with many other undocumented people on the cover of TIME Magazine in 2012. 

“I did this because it was important to me to come out of the shadows for myself, and for other undocumented students who were still afraid,” Bravo-Terkia said.

Bravo-Terkia’s combination of scholastic achievement and public service has made her the 41st recipient of the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence, the highest honor given to UMass Boston graduates. She will address the Class of 2017 during the undergraduate commencement exercises on May 26. The 29-year-old Winthrop resident will graduate with an anthropology degree and a minor in cognitive science.

Chair and Professor of Anthropology Stephen Silliman had Bravo-Terkia as a student in two of his classes.

“Her impacts have been palpable and clear, which is a direct function of her mature understanding of the power of knowledge to change the world and her recognition that those who have such knowledge should use it for positive public purposes,” Silliman wrote in a nomination letter. “As a result, she is a model for many other students seeking practical and informed ways to combine their academic training with real community good.”

Through the Provost Scholars Program, Bravo-Terkia served as a research assistant to Associate Professor of Anthropology Rosalyn Negrón in 2012, analyzing the immigration histories of Latinos in New York.

“This opportunity was great for me because I got to learn how research can be applied to communities and actually help communities and Professor Rosalyn Negrón’s topic was really interesting to me because I’m really interested in issues of identity, so it was the first step,” Bravo-Terkia said.

Negrón encouraged her to enroll in the Latino Leadership Opportunity Program (LLOP), an academic enrichment program that focuses on training in research design for public policy as well as leadership development, in 2013. Bravo-Terkia’s project focused on how Latinos use resilience to combat the effects of deportation.

After Bravo-Terkia’s work permit was approved, Maria Idalí Torres, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, hired Bravo-Terkia first as an undergraduate research assistant, then a teaching assistant for a seminar focused on immigrant farm workers from Mexico to the Berkshires. One of the research projects she worked on for the Gastón was Por Ahi Dichen (They’re Saying Around There). Bravo-Terkia went to Springfield and Holyoke and interviewed Puerto Rican mothers about how they talked to their children about sexuality and sexual health. On another project, Todos Juntos con Seguro (All Together with Insurance), she helped enroll Latinos and other vulnerable ethnic groups in health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act. Bravo-Terkia currently works for the Gastón Institute as an administrative assistant.

Bravo-Terkia is also a member of the Immigrant Student Task Force, which worked last year to create the Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix Immigrant Achievers Scholarship, which gives preference to immigrant students who. Last week, the group held its first Undocugrad Celebration, for undocumented students graduating with the Class of 2017.

Bravo-Terkia developed an interest in psychology at UMass Boston. She wants to go to graduate school to study how people’s decisions are influenced by culture, experiences, and background, and eventually apply this knowledge to public policy.

“I have realized that even people who have legal status here need help and they are vulnerable to the system, so immigrants in general is a population I want to continue working with,” Bravo-Terkia said.

The John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence is given to the graduating senior who best exemplifies academic excellence, commitment to service, and good citizenship. Winners receive a $1,000 honorarium, a bust of John F. Kennedy, and the opportunity to speak at their commencement ceremony.