In Maya Rao’s acceptance letter to Case Western Reserve, an admission counselor included a suggestion: Rao should consider joining Undergraduate Student Government should she choose the university.

She took that advice to heart.

Upon arriving on campus that fall, she became a first-year representative, and now, as she begins her senior year, Rao is the Undergraduate Student Government president.

Rao admits that her high school student government experience didn’t exactly prepare her for the breadth of responsibilities she’d encounter at the collegiate level with USG.

Last year, as the Undergraduate Student Government’s vice president of finance, Rao ushered in an initiative-based model for providing resources and distributing funds to student organizations with the goal of making the funding process more clear and equitable.

Prior to that, she served on the Menstrual Product and Sexual Health Task Force, co-authoring a resolution for free and accessible menstrual health products on campus. As a result of the task force’s work, dispensers were installed in bathrooms across campus.

Rao considered that experience “something that was so empowering and exciting to see as a woman.”

As president, Rao looks to expand initiatives on wellness, transparency and inclusivity.

Through added transparency, Rao hopes to get the student body more involved in the work she and the USG team do. Beyond that, she hopes it will encourage more students to come forward with their own ideas.

“If we’re guessing what they want, we’re not actually giving them what they want,” Rao said.

Ultimately, she appreciates the opportunity to make a positive opportunity on campus.

“Something I’ve been excited about—and surprised by—this year is how much the university and outside community depend on me to be the voice of undergraduate students,” Rao said.

Combining hard sciences with the humanities

In the classroom, Rao balances her chemistry major with minors in polymer science and engineering and English.

She initially came to CWRU with the intention of majoring in polymer science and engineering, but, ultimately, she decided chemistry seemed to better fit her aspirations of going into the medical field (she hopes to attend medical school next fall).

Meanwhile, Rao’s other minor allows her to pursue her interest in English literature—with practical applications for her future career.

“I feel like my humanities classes really give me a great perspective that science classes can’t always encompass,” she said. “They really cover empathy, ethics, and a humanistic and holistic view of what it means to be a person.”

Attend the next Undergraduate Student Government General Assembly Meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. in Adelbert Hall’s Toepfer Room to meet the new student leader. But first, take a look at her answers to this week’s five questions.

1. What’s your favorite poem or poet?

I took Sarah Gridley’s Mythic Poetry class during my sophomore year and I loved it so much. So that was really the impetus to get me into poetry. My favorite poet is probably Audre Lorde. She covers instances of injustice and social issues with so much poise and beauty. Although it’s actually older poetry, it’s very much transcended time. It’s both exciting and disappointing to know that some of the issues she saw and commented on are still pervading our society today.

My favorite poem is called Mariana Trench by Joanna Klink; that was one of the poems introduced to me in Sarah Gridley’s class. That poem to me is very much about uncertainty or being on a sense of a precipice, which I think is a very difficult feeling to convey, but she does it really beautifully in words.

2. Do you prefer e-readers or actual books?

It depends. In terms of cost effectiveness, e-readers are definitely up there. When I’m buying a textbook for a science class, I always rent an e-book [for] my iPad because it’s a lot less expensive.

But when it comes to my English classes and reading books for fun, I like having a physical copy with me just because you can mark it up, put bookmarks in it and dog-ear the pages.

3. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

To not be worried if you’re not the smartest person in a room—you shouldn’t be. … There’s someone who has more insight, more knowledge [or] experience than you do.

You always have something to learn from the people around you. Knowing that you’re not the smartest person in a room gives you that opportunity to step back and really genuinely listen to the people around you and learn from them. That’s something I’ve always been committed to doing in my time at Case Western [Reserve].

4. If you were to become famous for something, for what do you think it would be?

I hope it would be for some cool scientific breakthrough, medical discovery or perhaps something in the realm of health politics—hopefully a positive change to our health care system.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people, definitely. I always say that Case [Western Reserve]’s school spirit comes from a very unique place—it’s for the involvements they have. I always see people with so much pride for their club sport, for their student government involvement, or their involvement in Greek Life, athletics and more. To me, these mini-communities with so much pride individually zoom out to be a bigger, more spirited Case Western Reserve community.

Another thing I love about this school: the fact that nobody is happy just doing the bare minimum. Everyone wants to excel, everyone wants to be the best version of themselves.