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Maira Castellane: From Undocumented Immigrant to Eagleton Fellow to Rutgers Alumna

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Maira Castellane, of Clifton, New Jersey, emigrated from Brazil to the United States with her family in 1999. As soon as she stepped foot on American soil, she became an undocumented immigrant and maintained that status for 10 years. After obtaining her Green Card in 2009, she eventually became a naturalized citizen in 2014. It is this journey of both uncertainty and perseverance that fuels Castellane’s pride in becoming a Rutgers-Newark alumna in the Class of 2020. She will earn her master of public administration degree from the School of Public Affairs and Administration in May.

“My years as an undocumented immigrant is one of the reasons why I chose to pursue a degree in public administration,” stated Castellane. “I know what it’s like to feel invisible – having no driver’s license, no Social Security number. I want to be of service to the public but especially to any population that may be overlooked or underrepresented in public affairs.”

Castellane’s desire to help others led her to apply and get accepted to the Eagleton Fellowship at Rutgers University in September 2019. The fellowship is a one-year interdisciplinary certificate program open to Rutgers graduate students interested in learning more about American politics and government. Eagleton fellows expand their understanding of government, public affairs, and the practice of politics while connecting their fellowship experience to their chosen fields of study.

“The fellowship is an immersive program that allows us to engage with politicians and high-level government officials,” Castellane said. “From January through April of this year, I worked in the New Jersey Department of Labor. I was placed in the Office of the Commissioner.”

As a result of her Eagleton experience, Castellane aspires to work for a state or federal department or agency. While she waits for the job market to rebound, she will continue to volunteer for the New Jersey Office of Innovation, answering COVID-19-related questions. She also will continue her training to become a contact tracer for the City of Newark. “For as long as I am not working, I will continue to dedicate time to help during the coronavirus crisis any way I can.”

“I’m so happy I chose to pursue my master’s degree at Rutgers-Newark,” Castellane shared. “The fellowship would not have been possible otherwise.”

Castellane also touted as added benefits the diversity of Rutgers-Newark’s student population, the professionalism and commitment of faculty and staff, and the university’s location in Newark, which is close to Clifton.

“Yes, Rutgers is a well-known institution with a great reputation,” noted Castellane, who received her bachelor’s degree in history and psychology from Baruch College in New York City. “But what makes Rutgers-Newark extra special is its diversity and the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. There is so much to gain from exposure to other cultures.”

It is for this reason Castellane travels back to Brazil annually. She also brings her eight-year-old daughter when possible.

“Brazil will always be a part of my life, so understandably, I want to instill the Brazilian culture into my daughter. It’s important that she appreciates her life of privilege here in the United States while simultaneously acquiring a sensitivity to the plight of those less fortunate. My Rutgers-Newark experience – fellowship, coursework, and faculty and student engagement – certainly helped to keep me grounded in that regard.”