Law and Politics People and Community

’Canes experience democracy in action through student program

Leadership UMiami, an interactive leadership program through the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, offered students the opportunity to spend several weeks exploring democracy and civic engagement—culminating with a visit to the nation’s capital to experience democracy in action.
Leadership UMiami

A cohort of students, who were part of Leadership UMiami, traveled to Washington, D.C. to experience democracy in action.

Maryam Nasr, a senior studying biomedical engineering, has always had a passion for social change in her community. As part of Leadership UMiami, an interactive leadership program through the Butler Center for Service and Leadership at the University of Miami, Nasr found the opportunity to hone the skills necessary to engage in social change and democracy in impactful ways.

“I was, and still am, someone who is really inspired to make change in my community. I wanted to find a way to do that when I started Leadership UMiami,” she said. So, after an enriching experience as a member of the previous Leadership UMiami group, Nasr returned to the program as a student coordinator, leading her peers through the program.

During the fall semester, students met weekly to engage in dialogues, professional development activities, and community visits. They took part in discussions with community and University leaders about various topics surrounding current events, identity, social justice, education, and poverty.

Last week, the 15 University of Miami students in the 2023 Leadership UMiami cohort concluded their journey to uncover their civic identities and roles in the democratic process. They participated in “Democracy in Action Week” by exploring the ideals of leadership and democracy in Miami and Washington, D.C.

To kick off that final week, the group spent its first day in South Florida touring the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse in downtown Miami. During the visit, the young leaders met with public officials—Judge Christine Bandin of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, a 2006 graduate of the School of Law, and Carlos J. Martinez, a public defender for Miami-Dade County and also an alumnus of the School of Law—to discuss career paths, the judicial system, and local government and policy.

The following day, students met with Rudy Fernandez, the University’s executive vice president for external affairs and strategic initiatives and chief of staff, for a sendoff before departing Miami. Fernandez shared his experience of spending nearly a decade in Washington, D.C., where he served as special assistant to the president in the George W. Bush administration, and he offered words of wisdom to the young leaders.

During their busy four-day visit to the nation’s capital, students met with elected officials and their staff at the Capitol, including Democratic representatives Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Jared Moskowitz, and Republican representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar, as well as staff from the offices of Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

The meetings gave the civically minded students a glimpse at the legislative process and offered insight on how elected officials identify issues that need addressing in their communities.

“It was very interesting to see and experience how the legislative process works,” said Kayla Davis, a senior studying broadcast journalism. She also served as a student coordinator for this year’s Leadership UMiami program alongside Nasr. Davis noted that hearing about the process was eye-opening for her.

“The staffers walked us through how they go out into the community, where they saw how people who have less access to certain [transportation] resources can’t get to where they need to go, and how they identify those issues. It was something so small that I really don’t think about when I typically think of government. The little things matter, too, especially locally,” she said.



Before leaving the Capitol, the group watched the House of Representatives vote on three bills. Following their day on Capitol Hill, the students connected with a network of University alumni living in D.C. through a panel discussion and reception that was hosted by the University of Miami Alumni Association. They networked with alumni and learned about their professional paths from Miami to the District of Columbia.

The students regrouped on the final day to explore the city. They visited museums and several historic locations.

Davis and Nasr visited the National Museum of African American History with their peers. The whole experience, they agreed, was enriching.

“I’m really thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the program and learn as much as I did,” Davis said.

“The program showed me that everyone has their own experiences, and everyone has their own path to take,” Nasr added. “Seeing people in my cohort and seeing people in D.C. be so passionate makes me realize that we’re all just trying to make a difference in people’s lives. It showed me that the people I meet today through Leadership UMiami could one day end up in those positions [as community leaders].”