By Caitlyn Orlomoski, The UConn Foundation
Rachel Madariaga ’11 has always been an avid reader. As a child in Barrington, New Hampshire, she would tear through 30 to 40 books each summer, exploring with Anne of Green Gables and casting spells with Harry Potter. To this day, she enjoys visiting bookstores and searching through the shelves for the perfect story.
Because of her love of literature, Madariaga initially wanted to be a writer, but after taking a creative writing course at UConn, she discovered that a career as a best-selling author wasn’t in her future. “I didn’t possess the raw talent, patience or passion to write,” she reflects. “It’s a big moment when you realize everything you thought about yourself is wrong.”
Madariaga has unearthed a new topic to guide her work at UConn: She now focuses on women’s studies and human rights. “I took two women’s studies courses at the same time in the fall of sophomore year to fulfill general education requirements,” she says, “and from there it developed into a passion.”
That passion led Madariaga to volunteer for UConn’s V-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women. She started out as the chief financial officer, quickly became enthralled in her work and felt compelled to do more. This past year, Madariaga stepped up as director, coordinating the campaign and a successful production of The Vagina Monologues. “Directing the production was one of the greatest challenges and biggest rewards that I’ve experienced in college,” she says.
Madariaga’s academic work also reflects her devotion to the subject. Since UConn doesn’t offer a human rights major, she applied to the University Scholar program at the beginning of her junior year, and is currently creating an individualized major combining her interests in literature, women’s studies, and human rights. But she still needed one specific topic for her research.
Drawn to Turkey’s success with educational campaigns and its importance to U.S. foreign policy, Madariaga focused her gaze on international education development there. She has spent the past two summers in Turkey, last year living in Izmir and this year studying access to education and its relation to gender equality in the country’s capital, Ankara.
It hasn’t been easy work, but Madariaga has proven that she’s always open for a challenge. During the first part of this summer, she received a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship and immersed herself in Turkey’s language and culture. “The smallest things were my greatest accomplishments: making reservations in Turkish, talking to the taxi drivers, eating real Turkish food with my host family every night,” she says.
After her government grant ended, Madariaga spent the rest of the summer interviewing Turkish experts in the field of education. The Dean's Fund in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provided a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) grant as funding for Madariaga’s work. “The grant allowed me to frame my critical analysis of my University Scholar project with knowledge from those actually working on issues in the country,” she says, “and they can help guide me on which subjects and factors I should focus on.” The in-depth interviews will provide a foundation for her research, making the end run to her project deadline easier.
Madariaga will complete her University Scholar project this spring and graduate in May. She lacks a concrete plan for the immediate future, though travelling abroad or earning her master’s degree in the U.K. are at the top of her list of possibilities.
Even though she no longer wants to be a famous author, Madariaga has fulfilled one goal her parents instilled in her from a young age: to be a strong woman. Now she has a new aspiration. “I want to work in international education development so that one day every girl has the opportunity to live up to her potential,” she says. “When a woman is educated, everybody’s life improves.”
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