Driven to Make Positive Change, International Student Promotes Cultural Diversity

A young woman with dark hair wearing a dark blazer smiles stands on a walkway on George Mason University’s campus and smiles at the camera.
‘All my experiences have contributed to who I am today … I look forward to going back to Colombia and become a politician who makes an impactful and effective change.’

This is part of the Schar School's student-to-student story series where undergraduates are interviewed and profiled by their peers.

Maria Cuesta has always been driven to help others, transcending territorial, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. Her passion for global politics, economics, and community service led her to pursue her education at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, with a goal of contributing to the Washington, D.C., area, and most importantly, to Colombia, her home country.

Cuesta’s academic journey reflects her commitment to making a positive impact. She decided to pursue a double major in government and international politics and economics because her early introduction to social work in Colombia, where her mother worked with local NGOs aiding those displaced by internal conflict, left a profound impression.

“She would take me to her job during the weekends, where I managed workshops with children. My early exposure to that situation has driven my passion to work with people and to serve people,” she said.

Cuesta later moved to Kenya where this initial spark was further ignited. She continued to engage with nonprofits that focused on orphanages and provided educational resources to low-income students. She initiated the Be Well club at her high school, promoting awareness of mental, physical, and spiritual health among her peers.

At the Schar School, Cuesta has actively sought opportunities to enhance her college experience. She participated in the Democracy Lab, a first-year learning community, led by Associate Professor Jennifer Victor, in which students engage with the issues that define the journey of democracy in the United States and around the world. The experience exposed her to the intricacies of the U.S. political system, providing valuable insights as an international student. Field trips, such as to the U.S. Institute of Peace, deepened her understanding and engagement in the learning community.

“Democracy Lab was an excellent experience for an international student because before coming to the U.S, I didn’t know anything about the U.S political system,” Cuesta said. “The Democracy Lab opened a door to learning about all these different institutions. Not only the class, but also the field trips and having guest speakers enriched my experience.”

Yet despite a lifetime of international experiences and participation in the Democracy Lab, Cuesta felt like an outsider in the United States. Understanding U.S. politics proved to be a challenge for her. Thankfully, her Introduction to American Government class, taught by Professor Jeremy Mayer, provided valuable insights and resources to navigate the subject.

“Professor Mayer as an exceptional teacher who helped bridge my knowledge gap. He gives you the necessary resources to gain a deeper understanding of the subject,” she said.

Beyond her studies, Cuesta is dedicated to serving the Mason and Hispanic communities. She currently holds the position of senator outreach liaison in the student government, where she strengthens the connection between the student body and student government. She actively works on a project called the Cultural Dance Showoff, which aims to promote cultural diversity within Mason and facilitate cross-cultural learning among participating organizations. Additionally, she serves as the external partner experience officer on the executive board of the Honors College Connects, fostering strong relationships between the Honors College and nonprofit partners, Fairfax leadership, and alumni.

Upon graduation, Cuesta hopes to pursue a master’s degree in conflict resolution. Her ultimate goal is to embark on a political career in Colombia, leveraging her education and experiences to drive positive change.

“All my experiences have contributed to who I am today and why I want to study government and economics,” she said. “I look forward to going back to Colombia and become a politician who makes an impactful and effective change.”