UACT Staff and Trainers

Paula Peña


Paula is a senior at Amherst College majoring in Anthropology and Sociology. Hailing from Quito, Ecuador, she's interested in transnational struggles for change and networks of resistance, anti-capitalist geographies, and in thinking about how we can learn to be in solidarity with each other in a transformative way. She's involved with the Direct Action Coordinating Committee (DACC) at Amherst. Paula finds her personal utopias in biking, farming, playing rugby, reading sci-fi, and basking in the light of the sun or the stars with some nourishing food, music and friends. 

Aaija Hall


Aaija is now a fourth  year at UMass Amherst. She is majoring in Sociology and minoring in Education. Her future goal is to one day build her own non-profit school, with a focus on learning that focuses on people and the complexities of diversity. She is apart of the UACT community because she wants to know what that goal, though a bit abstract, looks like in reality. She wants to be a part of work that challenges her, but is purposeful, and that has an impact that matters. 

Linda Gorniaczyk

Student Administrator

Linda was born and raised in Queens, New York and is in her second year at UMass. She is studying Political Science, minoring in Anthropology and pursuing a certificate in International Relations. She is passionate about politics and social justice and hopes to continue doing community organizing after college. In her free time, Linda likes to spend time with friends, play her ukulele, bullet journal, and drink lots of coffee! 

Jess Slattery

Vibes Coordinator

Jess is a junior STPEC & Economics major at UMass. They took GCO last spring & joined UACT staff to continue exploring the roles that relational organizing & community building have in her life. She's excited to work with & support this great community of people. Jess loves listening to music, supporting worker co-ops, & spending as much of their time as possible outdoors.

Akanksha Nagarkar

Communications Coordinator

Akanksha is a biology and anthropology major at UMass. She was born in India, raised in many different places, and currently resides in eastern Massachusetts. Outside of UACT, Akanksha is involved in a nutrition education project in the Pioneer Valley area. Akanksha is passionate about health, music, and vegan pizza. 

Project Coordinator -- Relational Organizing

Born & raised in El Paso TX, Leslie is now a  research fellow for a participatory action research project in Springfield, MA. This year in UACT, they will be supporting the community based ‘Relational Organizing’ class held in the spring. They also spend their time working on graphic scribing and community art projects. Previously, they have been involved in community organizing and political advocacy, collaborating with community leaders and organizations both in Texas and Massachusetts. They hope to always be working in the intersections of art, healing, and justice; and find themselves lucky to have many communities to come home to and build with. When not supporting youth & community organizing work, they like to spend their time making art, drinking tea, or learning about herbal medicine and astrology.

Trainer (GCO), Interim Director (Spring '20)

Justin Allen Keoki Helepololei is a PhD Candidate in the UMass Department of Anthropology. Justin was born in Hawai'i, raised in Arizona, and has lived in Western Mass since 2011. Outside of UACT, Justin is a collective member of Great Falls Books Through Bars and Mass Prisoners and Organizers Working for Enfranchisement and Restoration. Justin loves donuts, libraries, and protest occupations

Brennan Tierney

Project Coordinator -- Organizational Resilience and Mentoring

Brennan is a UMass Amherst alumni who was born in Rhode Island and now lives in Northampton, MA. Through UACT, Brennan felt the power of relational-centered organizing. This year he hopes to support organizational resilience by coordinating mentoring relationships and to deepen his own growth as a facilitator and organizer. Committed to (un)learning and a dreamer of solidarity economies, Brennan is grateful to be in this community to explore the important questions and challenges of this moment


Jen Sandler is the Director of UACT and Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at UMass. Her research focuses on on how people who want to change society mobilize knowledge. Current research and writing projects focus on meetings (with which she is mildly obsessed both as practitioner and ethnographer), collaborations between elites and activists, support systems for bereaved families, and relational approaches to organizing and organization. 

Jen earned a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008, and held visiting faculty positions at Trinity College and Bates College before coming to UMass and UACT in 2012. She is intensely grateful to have so many meaningful projects and people guiding her engagement in these times of extraordinary precarity, injustice, and violence. Jen also currently appreciates surrounding mountains and farms, honors the grounding influence of her six-year-old, and struggles to settle on some beautiful ink for her middle-aged skin. 

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