Alumnus Creates His Own Path to Success

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Kevin Varela, ’10, started the international relations track through the UCF Political Science Department with hopes of one day getting a nice cozy job as a diplomat. However, his journey through UCF’s international relations, women’s studies, and Latin American studies programs opened not only his mind, but his desires.

“International relations taught me about how the system of global governance is structured and how it works,” he says. “Latin American studies honed my knowledge in a particular region with a very elaborate political history. Women’s studies opened the door to a broad range of critical thinkers who examine power on micro and macro levels, and how it manifests through gender norms, political institutions and global systems of influence.”

Varela says UCF’s programs not only provided him the knowledge he sought, but also encouraged him to take his own path. The Burnett Honors College’s “Honors in the Major” program, coupled with an amazing team of professors, provided him with the opportunity to conduct research for a thesis in his field of study. During the process, the Office of Undergraduate Research awarded him a grant to conduct interviews in his nation of interest and home country, Nicaragua. The result was a thesis on women and power in post-revolutionary Nicaragua.

Varela graduated with honors. For many of his good friends, law school or graduate school was their next step. However, he was determined and hopeful enough to get out into the world and make a go at it. “I’m not going to lie,” he says. “It was rough for a while. I worked random jobs in South Florida and applied to countless jobs around the country. I even managed to get an article published by the North American Congress on Latin America. But, it wasn’t until a chance to crash on a couch in New York City from an old friend presented itself that I was able to start making my way.”

When he got to New York City, he worked odd jobs, but he never lost track of what he wanted. He got serious about his blog on Latin American politics, and he wrote three to four cover letters a day. But what ultimately helped him, he says, was volunteering. He worked part-time at a vegan ice cream shop, at El Museo del Barrio in Spanish Harlem, and volunteered two days a week at MADRE, an international women’s rights organization. Those experiences ultimately led him to Make the Road New York, the largest community-based immigrant rights organization in New York state, for which he now has the privilege of working as the legal program associate.

“My position allows me the opportunity to delve into many different kinds of work,” he explains. “Some days it’s grants management, some days it’s research into shady landlords in New York City, and other days it’s working Deferred Action clinics where dozens of youth get the opportunity to apply for a stay of deportation. I have the opportunity to work with a group of amazing people building alternatives, building grassroots power and pressuring the politicians to stop being beholden to money and start listening to people again.”

Although he left UCF not knowing what he wanted out of his life or career, he says he left with the tools and confidence that led him in the right direction.


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