Credit: Nicholas Dentamaro

Maria Teresa Conchas

San Antonio, Texas

In some ways, Maria Teresa Conchas’ path — to Brown and to a habit of complementing rigorous academic work with service that aims to empower others — began when she was just a fifth grader. That was when she decided to attend an all-girls school, San Antonio’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), which offers a demanding curriculum and emphasizes responsible leadership through participation in service learning.

“I really fell in love with the school’s mission and connected to it,” said Conchas, who eight years later graduated as YWLA’s valedictorian. “I would like to do all that is within my power and my ability to improve the lives of others.”

Conchas, who said her community work over the years led her to appreciate the collaborative nature of change-making, would like to improve the lives of women in particular. “For centuries, women have been marginalized and disenfranchised,” she said. “It’s time to level the playing field.”

At Brown, that will likely mean pursuing studies in global public health and perhaps development studies, Conchas said. Her aim is to advocate for women’s reproductive health and rights, particularly in communities of color. 

Conchas has been developing the leadership skills she will need through her participation in numerous academic and service organizations, and through a highly competitive national HERlead fellowship focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders. That experience inspired her to found a local chapter of Girl Up Club, a program of the United Nations that encourages girls to engage in projects that positively impact communities. 

Through Girl Up, Conchas and her YWLA classmates worked to destigmatize menstruation by creating menstruation stations in bathrooms, providing free sanitary products to students who had previously had to visit the school nurse and sign them out. Conchas’ chapter also collected 11,000 sanitary pads and donated half of them to an area women’s.

At Brown, Conchas is a Bonner Community Fellow at the Swearer Center and will partner for the next four years with the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring program, working with students at the William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence. She is also interested in working with the Brown Center for Students of Color and is shopping English and comparative literature classes.

“Right now I just feel like a sponge, and I’m just absorbing everything,” Conchas said during her first week on campus. “I’m really excited for the Bonner program. It’s a fantastic community, being around people who care about community service, really value it and want to bring it to their college experience.”