Rachel Madariaga, CLAS ’11, has always been an avid reader. As a child in Barrington, N.H., she would tear through 30 to 40 books each summer.
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.”
Instead, she found a new interest in 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, and quickly became enthralled with the work. This past year, she 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 commitment to the subject. Since UConn doesn’t offer a major in human rights, 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 project.
Drawn to Turkey’s success with educational campaigns and its importance to U.S. foreign policy, Madariaga focused her attention on educational 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 equity in the country’s capital, Ankara.
It hasn’t been easy, but Madariaga has proven that she’s up for the challenge. During the first part of the 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,” she says, “making reservations in Turkish, talking to the taxi drivers, eating real Turkish food with my host family every night.”
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 her 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 interviews provided the foundation for her research.
Madariaga will complete her University Scholar project in the spring and graduate in May. She’s not yet sure what she’ll do in the immediate future, but traveling abroad or earning a master’s degree in the U.K. are at the top of her list of possibilities.
Although she no longer wants to be a famous author, Madariaga now 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.”
To support SURF and study abroad, please contact the development department at the UConn Foundation.