Maria Oliveira

Maria Oliveira

Maria Oliveira is a recipient of Phi Beta Kappa's inaugural Key Into Public Service scholarship, and is currently pursuing a major in history and a minor in mathematics at the University of Connecticut-Stamford. As President of the UConn Stamford Student Government Association and a member of the Honors Student Leadership Board, she seeks to give back to her campus, improve the student experience, and engage with the community.


As a child, what profession did you envision for yourself when you grew up?

Growing up, I wanted to be a singer. I loved music class in elementary school, and singing in the fifth-grade choir. So, in middle school I joined choir and theatre, both of which I continued throughout high school. As I got older I developed additional interests, and singing and acting became more of a fun and fulfilling hobby for me. I still train however, and today I am a classical singer who loves Puccini’s La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, which I never would have imagined as a 7 year old.

What has been the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?

In the spring of 2018 I took “Rise of US Global Power,” which traced twentieth-century American foreign policy as the country grew into a superpower. This course was impactful for me both because of its content and the way it fostered my growth as a student. The course material dealt with important concepts, including the ideologies that informed and continue to inform US foreign policy, and the forces that led to our country assuming its current role on the world stage. In my research project, I examined the relationship between the Truman administration’s rhetoric, actual policy, and the public’s attitudes towards communism. I was nervous entering an upper-level history class as a freshman, but I also was determined to challenge myself. I asked the professor for help, and with his advice I both improved and became more confident in my academic writing. In this course I wrote my first college research paper and book review. Though it seems like a small feat to me now, at the time it was critical for me in developing confidence and skill as a writer, researcher, and student.

You are currently the President of the Student Government Association at the University of Connecticut – Stamford. What have you learned from taking on this leadership role?

I’ve come to appreciate that successful leadership is truly about teamwork. It is about helping everyone to work together to achieve a common goal, which, in the context of Student Government, is ultimately about the students we serve. The mission of the UConn Stamford Student Government Association is to create events and programming that foster student community and to represent student interests to the administration. Everything our organization does is centered around serving students. My role is to oversee the organization, to chair the General Senate, and to guide and support the other Officers and Directors. As a leader, my focus is on serving and supporting the team. In the past few semesters, we have had remarkably successful events, thanks to the teamwork of the incredible Student Government members who dedicate their time and creative effort into making the campus better for everyone.

You’re also an inaugural recipient of Phi Beta Kappa’s Key Into Public Service Scholarship, and over the summer you attended our virtual convening where leading service organizations shared tips and suggestions for launching a public service career. What did you gain from this experience? 

I plan to work for the State Department, and I gained wonderful advice, opportunities, resources, and connections related to both federal service and public service in general. I learned about the federal recruitment process and related scholarship and internship opportunities. I also appreciate that we were each paired with a Phi Beta Kappa member working in our respective fields of interest who could serve as a mentor. My mentor was extremely gracious and helpful; I received a great deal of advice from him about my potential career path and working for the State Department. Another important takeaway was the information about graduate school opportunities in my fields of interest. I was inspired by the stories and advice from the distinguished public servants who came to speak to us about the diverse paths to public service and leadership. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and for having met other students who share similar interests and aspirations!

You are majoring in history, minoring in mathematics, and tutor students in chemistry. Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded liberal arts & sciences education are important in today’s society? 

I see the value of a liberal arts education in its impact on how we relate to one another and understand the human condition. This impact comes to fruition when students develop critical skills upon studying the various perspectives encountered in the liberal arts. English, history, economics, psychology, chemistry, etc., all offer unique perspectives on the world. For example, economics turns decision-making into a science. Chemistry focuses on objective composition of our world. History’s perspective analyzes the past to explain the present. In studying subjects as diverse as these, we develop flexibility in our thought processes. The skills cultivated by the liberal arts are important in a society that is trying to improve its civil discourse and encourage a healthy dialogue. In promoting the liberal arts, Phi Beta Kappa contributes to the promotion of an open-minded and well-informed society whose members care about understanding one another and working together to find solutions.

What was the best advice you have received and who gave it to you?

My dad has always told me that college is not about learning to make a living, rather learning how to live. This has been the philosophy of my approach to undergraduate education, but it has also influenced how I see things beyond education, and the purpose of life in general. I see the underlying logic as this: education is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, and that end is self-betterment. One way we can better ourselves is by creating meaning in our lives, and that meaning lies in how we relate to other people. Education helps us to accomplish this by broadening our perspectives, and enabling us to communicate our own perspectives to others effectively—this is the true meaning of learning to live. I see this lesson as also applying outside of a formal educational setting. Because every experience can be turned into a learning one, I see people as going through life perpetually learning more about how to live. I like this notion, because it means that there is always a way to improve, and thus always something to look forward to. I also think that it recognizes the humanity in people, in that no one is or can be expected to be perfect and know everything.

What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?

I recently finished In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, and I was pleasantly surprised with how it ended. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that it avoids being a conventional story, and that it makes a statement on how our biases influence our interpretation of events. Serle seems to comment on the sometimes-myopic nature of foresight. I also really enjoyed Ozark on Netflix. The story is compelling and well-told, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something serious, thoughtful, and tragic, but also quick-paced with a lot of twists and turns.