This spring, Chatham third-year student Maria Taylor was named a Newman Civic Fellow. The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.
Maria grew up in the foster care system right outside of Pittsburgh, and moved 11 times before college. She’s planning to graduate a year early and has a cumulative GPA of 3.51, but is quick to point out that she’s the exception. “Only three percent of foster youth graduate from college, compared to 38 percent of their peers,” she says. This discrepancy helped spark her interest in helping marginalized communities, both in and outside of school.
Maria’s civic engagement
Maria believes that universities can help make it easier for foster youth to enter and stay in college. That’s why she developed (and chairs) Chatham’s Expanding Student Services Committee, which advocates for marginalized student populations, including groups like undocumented, former foster youth, food insecure, home insecure, and low-income students.
The Expanding Student Services Committee is part of Chatham Student Government. Maria ran for the executive board of CSG during her first year, and won. She next served as CSG’s Executive Vice President of Communications.
“We want to be as inclusive of these students as possible, and we want them to thrive here regardless of their background and what’s going on in their lives,” says Maria, who herself identifies as first-generation, home insecure and low-income.
Here’s one way that Maria thinks Chatham can help: the professional dress closet. “There’s the expectation that everyone here will do an internship, and that can be a burden for low-income students who don’t have appropriate clothes,” says Maria. “And in student government, there’s an expectation that you’ll wear business casual for the majority of the meetings—does that discourage people from attending, or from running? I met with Career Development, and we started taking donations of clothes and of money or gift cards. Now, when students come to Career Development, they’re told about the professional dress closet. They can take whatever they want and keep it, no questions asked.”
Maria also led a group of students who worked with the Office of Student Affairs to ensure Chatham’s sexual assault prevention policies were accessible, and is in the process of creating a food pantry on campus.
“There are so many reasons why we need this,” she says. “You might be an international student on campus during break when the dining halls are closed. Or you might be a low-income student who needs food and that’s cool. No one should be ashamed to use these services.”
Maria is also interested in starting a cohort for first-generation college students at Chatham. “First-generation students often have a series of difficulties that other students don’t face,” she says, adding that the program could be peer-led and mentor-based. “It would be great to partner with first-generation faculty and staff. How great would that be, for a first-gen student to see a first-gen faculty member with a PhD?”
Maria’s academic life
Maria is pursuing a double major in political science and international studies, focusing on the Middle East. She’s studying Arabic. “The entire department of History, Political Science and International Studies is terrific,” says Maria. “The teachers are so caring toward their students. In high school, I had a 1.99 GPA at one point. I know what it is to be a struggling student, and I see that these teachers are willing to go the extra mile, and that means so much.” She mentions Women in Politics, History of Islam with Dr. Jean-Jacques Sene, and Turkey and the European Union as classes that she found especially inspiring.
This summer, Maria spent a couple of months in Morocco as part of the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership. She took courses in geopolitical alliances and intermediate Arabic and working on a Women’s Development project. “It provides training for women refugees from Libya and low-income women in Morocco,” she says. “They learn skills that they can use to provide for themselves.”
After Chatham, Maria plans to attend law school, and is also considering applying to the Fulbright Scholar Program. “I like Chatham’s focus on women’s empowerment and strong history with women’s leadership,” she says. “That history is so irreplaceable. It made Chatham a really great home.”
To donate clothing, money, or gift cards to the professional dress closet, contact Career Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-365-1209.