By: Nick Santangelo

Many liberal arts students hope to make a difference in the world. And the critical-thinking, communication, writing and research skills Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) graduates walk away with empower them to do just that.

Dave Mariano, CLA ’07, discovered as much when he came to North Philly from nearby Chester County, Pa. to study political science. Mariano originally considered studying pre-med and had aspirations of working with Doctors Without Borders. As such, he was drawn to Temple’s global reach and extremely diverse student body.

“But I remember freshman year sitting there and somebody had come into one of the lectures and spoken about some volunteer opportunities, and resume building and getting the experience and whatnot,” recalls Mariano. “I remember sitting there, and I was like lying in bed—you know, typical freshman not wanting to get up unless absolutely necessary—and I was like, ‘You know what? I'm going to suck it up, have some coffee and go to this thing.’

“Months later, I ended up in the Dominican Republic doing some volunteer work, came back from there and realized I was much more interested in systemic issues than I was necessarily direct service provision. I came back and switched my focus to political science and that was kind of the start of a lot of it.”

It was the start of a lot indeed. After graduation, Mariano attended grad school in the United Kingdom before going to work for the United Nations in New York City and later moving into NGO work for Save the Children in Turkey and Syria. Currently, he serves as an Advocacy Advisor for the Danish Refugee Council in Iraq. As such, his career has seen him performing policy and advocacy work tied to economic development, educational programming and women’s empowerment.

In addition to studying political science, Mariano prepared for that work by studying abroad through the Latin American Studies Semester while a CLA student.

Don't worry, relax. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I want to do. 

When he wanted to study abroad again, this time in Bolivia, he found CLA to be very supportive in allowing him to study abroad there through another institution. He got the experience he wanted and was able to have all his credits to transfer despite Temple not having a Bolivia program.

The global experience, political knowledge and communications skills Mariano picked up as a CLA student helped him land a job he enjoys—one that makes a difference.

Though working with complex government institutions and stigmatized policies means progress is never fast, Mariano is able to keep pushing ahead by slowly chipping away at complicated issues. Forming personal connections with people affected by policy changes helps keep Mariano going when bureaucracy might otherwise discourage him.

“In the conflict and post-conflict kind of areas it’s not easy,” says Mariano. “But in the advocacy sphere you identify the issue and then you develop tactics and strategies, and things and you hope that the end result of that is some sort of change in law, like increasing the age of marriage so child marriage isn't quite an issue anymore.”

For students who want to get into international humanitarian or NGO work themselves, Mariano stresses the importance of studying abroad. The experience, he believes, helps ready students to do the work while making them stand out to recruiters.

He also has one other bit of advice: relax.

“A lot of students I've spoken to seem to have a decent amount of anxiety about trying to figure out what exactly they want to do. It is a mess of sector, mess of things whether it's natural disaster relief or economic development. Don't worry, relax. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I want to do. Most of my colleagues who are even decades older then I am are still trying to figure out as well, so it’s just more important to kind of take risks and consider opportunities that are presented to you but also seek out your own opportunities.”

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