Government and Politics student Michael Mareno will be advancing his studies at the prestigious Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute hosted at U.C. Berkeley this summer, as he was chosen to be one of only 30 undergraduates from across the country to participate in the program exclusive to high-achieving college juniors.

Mareno applied to the institute with the intent to expand on his interests and research on working class and Latinx visibility, both rooted in his home life. He was born and raised in Ocean City, Md. in part by his grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. As part of the GVPT Honors program, his senior thesis revolves around presidential rhetoric surrounding welfare and other issues of low-income Americans and the working class.

“I come from a very working class family. I have a Latinx background which has been super influential,” he said. “I know that a lot of the issues Latinx people face and communities of color endure are very unique to them, so I’m just trying best I can to try to prepare to help them.”

Mareno’s freshman year at UMD marked his switch from a microbiology major to English—soon after, he added GVPT as his second major and began looking toward law school. The PPIA program, he said, would help him become more analytical and develop a greater understanding of what sort of challenges working people face.

“I made a decision this year that I eventually did want to go to law school, and I did want to earn accreditations in public policy and legal stuff,” he explained. “I saw this program as sort of as a logical next step.”

Out of the several opportunities and various coursework PPIA will offer, Mareno most looks forward to meeting students and experts from across the nation. The seven-week program will be held online due to COVID-19 but students nationwide will still actively collaborate on projects and attend courses, seminars and lectures together. Mareno anticipates the interactive components will expand his understanding of policy and politics well outside of Maryland.

“As I’m meeting a lot of new people and hearing new perspectives I feel like it’ll be really valuable to say, ‘Here’s somebody from Illinois, or Michigan’—you know, from just all over the country,” Mareno said. “I think that’s going to be something that I really look forward to.”

Now interning for Maryland state delegate Nicole Williams of District 22 in the Maryland House of Delegates, Mareno looks forward to continuing to serve underrepresented communities, organizers and workers as he pursues a career in law. He is quick to dole shout-outs to people like Leslie Brice of the National Scholarships Office, his thesis advisor and GVPT associate professor Stella Rouse, and his close family members, because he knows each person has helped him reach this opportunity and encourages him to reach for more.

“I realize it’s outside the norm for a queer, Latinx person from a single parent, low-income household,” he said. “I owe it to a lot of other people pushing me to get here.”

Michael Mareno