Michelle Meza
Category: General News, Policy Perspectives, Student Experience

Title: National Urban Fellow Michelle Meza wants to reimagine our democracy

Author: Judi Ketteler
Date Published: October 2, 2023

Public service has always been Michelle Meza’s North Star, so it’s fitting that she joined the National Urban Fellows (NUF) class of 2024 at McCourt. Fresh out of the Biden Administration, she’s particularly excited to dive deeper into how our representative democracy and public sector institutions work, and — with the residency component of the program — to witness from the ground how they shape people’s lives.

“There are so many areas where we can do better,” said Meza (MPM’24), adding that she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work.

2023 National Urban Fellows
The 2023-2024 National Urban Fellows cohort met on the Hilltop for orientation in early June 2023.

Meza brings a unique perspective to the NUF program. “I’m an American who feels like an immigrant,” she said. “I am also a zero-generation American with no generation behind me.”

Meza was born in the U.S., but her parents, who were Peruvian immigrants, decided to move back to Peru when Meza was about five years old. She went to college in Peru and then worked for the U.S. Embassy in Lima before returning to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree from the School for International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

“My real immersion in the U.S. started after graduate school,” she said, noting that, as a Peruvian American with a foothold in each world and all her family in Peru, it wasn’t always easy to find her way.

I want to see more brown women like me, more Latinas, at the tables where decisions on our lives are being made. We are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the U.S., but we’re not always well-represented.

Michelle Meza (MPM’24)

“In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere,” she added.

That feeling began to change when she started working for the Biden campaign in 2020 as a Wisconsin field organizer. After that experience, she served on the Hill for two different Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives. And since April 2022, she’s been a political appointee, working for the Environmental Protection Agency as scheduler to its administrator.

“It was not easy, but I had to build my own sense of belonging while working inside of these massive institutions,” said Meza. All of that experience — that “grit,” she calls it — is what gave Meza the courage to apply for the fellowship. She also wanted to be the change that she longed to see. Inside of those institutions, she didn’t come across many people who looked like her in decision-making roles.

Meza looks forward to the intensive coursework at McCourt as well as the opportunity to be placed in one of NUF’s partner institutions across the country for nine months.

“Overall, I want to be an architect of reimagining and redesigning our democracy,” she said. “Our democracy has worked in many ways, but we need to update its institutions to meet a host of new challenges and make sure all the voices in our country are being heard and that we are opening the door to new faces and experiences.”