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Using the Power of Policy to Change Lives

“It is the responsibility of a policymaker to pursue policy that brings us closer to that equitable reality,” says MPP student Xan Avendaño. As someone who grew up in Washington, DC, Avendaño was immersed in politics early on. But it was his work in Hawaii that sparked his interest in policy.
 
“It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii that I discovered the true power of policy to improve people’s lives,” he says. “While working in the Hawaii State Senate, I supported a range of initiatives, including a working group of hard-of-hearing and blind constituents. My office collaborated with the group to introduce and advocate for a pilot program requiring major movie theaters to include screenings with closed captioning. When the bill passed, the advocates silently erupted with joy, throwing their hands in the air. Those fearless people inspire me every day to make policy that meets the needs of everyone in society.”
 
Avendaño came back to the DC area to pursue a master’s degree at the School of Public Policy. “I knew that I wanted to better understand how to improve cross-sector collaboration between the nonprofit and public sectors, and UMD has one of the strongest nonprofit management specializations in the country,” he says. “It was a joy to return home and study what I love.”
 
“I reject the notion that studying public policy is more important in today’s times than ever before,” Avendaño adds. “Policy that reflects the diverse views and backgrounds of society has always been and will always be crucial to the success of democracy. The only unchanging aspect of our civil society is change--change in demographics, in beliefs, in tastes--yet, power does not distribute itself equally throughout our evolving communities.”
 
In an effort to continue on his path to improving people’s lives through policy, Avendaño says he participated in internships and other activities throughout his journey at SPP. “Internships and extracurricular activities on and off campus have allowed me to build relationships in different spaces,” he says. Avendaño was a TIAA Fellow while at the School.
 
“Off campus, I had a summer internship in Baltimore at an independent family foundation that then turned into a full-time position. On campus, I served as the Policy Student Government Association external relations director and I worked closely over two years with the Do Good Institute. These roles allowed me to connect with SPP alumni, nonprofit professionals and on-campus policy drivers who have supported my career endeavors.”
 
Looking back on his time at SPP, Avendaño says he’d advise other students to take advantage of the opportunities around the school and campus. “Assume a leadership role in whatever you are passionate about and own it,” he says. “School work will always be a convenient excuse, but don’t let it be the reason you miss out on making the most of your invaluable community of fellow students, faculty and staff.”
 
“SPP faculty genuinely care about your advancement as a person and professional. Staff embrace you when you walk in the door. Your fellow students will be a part of your ever-growing professional network and some of them will become your best friends for life,” Avendaño says. “I walked into the program expecting a degree and a job, and I walked out with a family.”
 
Following graduation this May, Avendaño will to return to Hawaii as a program associate with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. “In that role, I will support the development and implementation of a grantmaking strategy in the state,” he says.
 
He plans to continue pursuing a career path where he can work with other professionals who are driven to create a more equitable society. “I hope that my career is one of many that improves the lives of people every day.”