University of Miami senior Monica Bustinza is always looking for ways to give back to the community.
“If you knock on the right doors opportunity is here,” said Bustinza, a transfer student majoring in political science and president of Get Out the Vote, the University’s non-partisan student organization.
Bustinza knocked on the right doors and restarted the dormant organization for the 2016 election cycle. The results set a record: since late August, Get Out the Vote registered over 2,000 students at the University, by far the largest number of new registrations in recent history.
The success she has had with Get Out the Vote is just her most recent accomplishment. Bustinza has accumulated more than 1,000 hours of community service and has received numerous awards for her work. However, she did not assume her newest leadership role with politics in mind.
“Civic talk didn’t even exist in my life before I got to Miami Dade [College],” explained Bustinza.
She got her first taste when she founded Meals from the Heart as a 16-year-old high school student. The charitable organization has organized food drives to feed over 4,000 underprivileged kids. “I saw what needed to be fixed and fixed it,” said Bustinza of those efforts.
Bustinza was content “to make waves in South Florida” with Meals from the Heart until a professor urged her to tackle the underlying issues associated with hunger. This prompted her to serve as president of the Human Rights Alliance, a forum which discusses various social issues within the community. Bustinza also interned at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she helped investigate cases of housing discrimination, and served as a student fellow for the Campus Election Engagement Project, an organization that registered students for the 2012 election.
Before transferring to UM, she considered continuing her education where civic engagement is traditionally more active than South Florida. Fortunately, she decided to stay in Miami.
“I needed to create change here, at home, before I continued to flourish in a place where [civic engagement is already high],” said Bustinza. “I want to challenge myself here, because there is a civic engagement drought.”
Since transferring to UM, which has a recognized culture of service, she continued to work to better the community by increasing civic participation through Get Out the Vote. “I brought the knowledge, resources, and experience I gained at Miami Dade College and used it to my advantage to increase civic participation at UM,” said Bustinza.
Get Out the Vote started in 2012 but became inactive after that election cycle. “I took it on, revamped it, recruited members, and started doing voter registrations,” said Bustinza.
She also credits the Division of Student Affairs and the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development for providing the support and guidance she needed to lead the organization.
The organization registers students to vote, provides transportation to polling stations, hosts debate watch parties, and has an educational election series. Bustinza started the election series “so students and faculty know what they are voting for.” The organization prides itself on providing non-partisan information.
“Get Out The Vote is committed to improving civic participation on campus, and strives to provide students with the information and resources they need to feel confident at the polls,” she said.
Bustinza plans to build on her success in South Florida by remaining here for law school. She eventually wants run for office and represent South Florida as a politician, in addition to teaching civic engagement during her career.
Bustinza most concisely and accurately describes why she has fought for social justice and increased civil engagement with one simple phrase: “Miami Dade needs me.”