In high school, Maggie Cunha ’20 volunteered at a residential treatment center for mothers suffering from addiction, an experience that kindled both her anger about ineffective public policy and a keen interest in improving public policy. It’s helped shape her career goals.
Her weekly job was a two-hour stint playing with the residents’ young children, giving the moms time to accomplish a task or maybe grab some time for themselves. Cunha got to know Heather, who did everything right to beat her addiction and maintain custody of her son. Heather completed the nine-month program only to be stymied by low-paying jobs, high-cost childcare, and a Catch 22 bureaucratic policy that prevented her from qualifying for a childcare subsidy until she’d worked for 30 days — which she couldn’t afford to do because the jobs she could get didn’t pay enough to cover the cost of childcare.
Major: Public Policy
Minors: Education, Sociology
Hometown: Plymouth, Mass.
High School: Holderness School
“I got furious. I just didn’t understand,” recalls Cunha. “We want people to work, we want kids to have good childhoods and be ready for kindergarten, we want people to not fall back into addiction, we want housing for people, we don’t want to have to subsidize all these homeless shelters. But we make the barriers for people doing the right steps and trying to get back on their feet so difficult.”
She entered Hamilton with an interest in homelessness, education, and public policy, landing on a public policy major and minors in education and sociology. She’s just starting the fun part of a public policy course on education reform. After weeks of studying policy, students have split into teams to develop their own data- and research-based policy solutions to a particular real-world education problem. Cunha loves how the major blends theory, a range of academic subjects, and real-world application.“You’re talking about real stuff that people across the nation and across the world are also talking about,” she points out.
After spending a summer in Washington, D.C., interning for a U.S. representative, Cunha knows that after graduation she wants to work on Capitol Hill. She suspects that her long-term career will involve graduate school of some sort, public policy and/or politics.
“I want to be on the Hill in some capacity advocating for the things that I believe in and using the privileges and the advantages and the education that I have to make those advantages more equitable for all people,” Cunha says. “And that’s something that I’m very passionate about — that I don’t necessarily think that I need to change the world or give back or put it in those terms. But I would like to use my energy and my intellect to pursue something that I believe in.”