Earning my psychology degree entailed real dedication, long hours, and love. Above all, love. I loved putting in the work, so it never felt like a chore. And my family loved what I was doing and supported me throughout.
Congratulations on winning the Derek Bok Public Service Prize. Can you describe your service work?
I was awarded the Derek Bok Public Service Prize in recognition of creative initiatives and my long-standing dedication as an advocate of LGBTQ+ mental health. My tenure as a Harvard Extension School student has been kindred with viable advocacy achievements. Harvard’s culture on diversity and inclusion has been pivotal to my development as a campaign inventor for human rights. I operate projects and campaign themes that aim to promote awareness, give hope, and empower young people who are struggling with their gender or sexual diversity.
How has this experience helped you in your career or personal development?
I believe that personal and professional development go hand in hand. Therefore, beyond the numerous edifying courses I have applied myself, being a research associate for the Science of Diversity lab during my studies has helped me gain invaluable skills in developing scientific projects and educational programs. As a result of great teamwork, directed by Dr. Mona Sue Weissmark, we are currently finalists for the Harvard Culture Lab Innovation Fund award on “Advancing Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging through Technology-Driven Solutions." Working in groups has been my greatest benefit, both interpersonally and as a vital career asset.
In which ways did you connect with the Harvard community?
The Harvard community is present across many modes and spans beyond the Harvard Yard, its physical buildings, and departments. This has become increasingly apparent now during the COVID-19 University-wide lockdown, where almost all activity has moved to a virtual format, yet the community spirit is unwavering.
As an Extension student, I felt well adjusted and at-home long before my first on-campus requirement. In reality, that had little to do with anything I did and had everything to do with the consistent pledge for inclusion and community throughout Harvard that made me feel welcomed and valued both online and in person.
Do you have a favorite class or faculty member? Why?
Since my first year at the Harvard Extension School, I was fortunate to become a teaching assistant of Dr. Mona Sue Weissmark for the Psychology of Diversity course.
Dr. Weissmark has given me ample opportunities to develop by entrusting me with the responsibility to present guest lectures on gender and sexual diversity each semester.
Addressing LGBTQ+ issues in class made a tremendous impact on students’ sense of belonging and inclusion. Facilitating that process has been my greatest honor and joy.
Do you have any advice for new students?
At Harvard Extension School you will be surrounded by extraordinary people with incredible ideas. Offer to collaborate with them, and enrich your experience with opportunities for more learning and growth. Put in the work, share your brilliance with others, and great things are bound to happen. Always be humble but don’t forget to shine!
Describe your Extension School experience in one word.
Here's what Marilena had to say about her Extension journey on Commencement Day:
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.