Leadership Profile: Marciela DeGrace

Rho Lambda, a leadership and honor society for sorority women, features individuals in a Women’s Leadership Series based on their contributions to campus life and their achievements as role models in the Carnegie Mellon and greater Pittsburgh communities. Marciela DeGrace is the organization’s current honoree.

Twenty-one-year-old DeGrace is well acquainted with the notion that starting small can lead to large-scale changes. Through her internship studying microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania and her many contributions to the Carnegie Mellon community, she has witnessed just how far even the most microscopic effort can go.

“There are a lot of different ways to help people,” DeGrace said. “Even if it’s in a small way, I can start to make a difference. Helping in a small way can give some hope, and that little bit of hope is what’s important.”

A senior Hispanic studies and biological sciences double major, DeGrace is primarily interested in studying virology and vaccine development with a focus on emerging diseases following graduation in May. A bilingual student who is the Andrew Carnegie Scholar for the modern languages department, DeGrace has taken numerous steps to put her interdisciplinary knowledge to good result. And though the Allentown, Pa., native did not grow up speaking Spanish, her studies of Hispanic culture have offered her a way to maintain her Puerto Rican heritage and culture.

Following her summer spent in the University of Pennsylvania lab researching the West Nile virus, DeGrace traveled to Seville, Spain the next summer to study abroad. There she had the opportunity to work in soup kitchens throughout the gypsy communities. She then saw first-hand the effects of the diseases she studied so closely.

“The research I’m interested in can stop those diseases from becoming an epidemic and stop them from becoming a problem,” she said.

DeGrace’s college career has taught her the meaning of time management and, despite the stress that may have accompanied the learning process, it’s a skill she does not begrudge having. In addition to the course load that accompanies pursuing a double major, she has had to delegate time for applying to graduate school, hoping to return to the University of Pennsylvania. Her desire to contribute to the university has been the driving force behind her commitment to good planning. Not one to procrastinate, she is disciplined in her school work, and often starts homework the day it is assigned to allow time for her numerous other activities.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating here because you can’t do everything you want — there just isn’t enough time. But I’ve been challenged and Carnegie Mellon has really prepared me for the next step because of how rigorous it is,” DeGrace said. “If I did less, I’d be a lot less happy. It’s a tradeoff, but I’ve found a way to do both [academics and extra-curriculars].”

As an active sister of Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity, she is the activities and service chair and the house ritualist, as well as a member of the standards board and the by-laws board. Her participation in Greek life extends past her house — she takes part as vice-president of recruitment on the Pan-Hellenic Executive Board and as philanthropy chair for Rho Lambda, where she works to raise money for Strong Women, Strong Girls.

Her leadership skills and ambitions to be involved on campus reach far outside the Greek community, however. She has been a resident assistant for Resnik Hall and is now the community advisor for Roselawn, Woodlawn, and Margaret Morrison Apartments. Here, she works closely with four RAs and the Student Affairs office. DeGrace is both a sexual assault advisor and Safezone trained. She is also a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society, Phi Sigma Iota Modern Languages Honors Society, and the Order of Omega Greek Honors Society.

Being a leader is something that has taught her great humility, DeGrace said. Her varied involvements on and off campus have made her recognize the responsibility she has to the many people who believe in her and the work she is capable of doing.

“[A leader is] someone who has a vision and who works with other people to make that vision happen,” DeGrace said. “To me, you’re not a leader unless you’re helping the other people in the group realize their potential.”

With her passion for helping others, DeGrace is taking action every day to make sure she realizes her full potential as well.