Leading With Kindness

Teresa with fellow North Carolina native Julia Huesa, vice president of Harvard University’s Undergraduate Council

“Being a leader means leading even when it may be inconvenient for you,” says Julia Huesa, 20. “But it’s your responsibility to serve the people you signed up to serve.”

In December 2018, Huesa and Sruthi Palaniappan were elected vice president and president, respectively, of Harvard University’s Undergraduate Council (UC). The student government organization serves nearly 7,000 undergraduates currently enrolled at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, university.

“When I first got to Harvard,” Huesa said during a recent interview in North Carolina, “I was involved in a lot of cultural change and activism. I really wanted to make changes to the structures that were at Harvard [to make it more inclusive]. That’s why I joined the student government.”



Huesa grew up in rural North Carolina. Her parents are from Spain, and most of her family members still live there. When she started middle school in Laurinburg, she placed into the AIG program (academically or intellectually gifted). She also played flute and ran cross country.

After her sophomore year of high school, Huesa was accepted at the state’s top-performing North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM). Getting into the two-year residential program, she said, felt like “a miracle.”

At NCSSM, Huesa researched computational science, a multidisciplinary field that uses advanced computing capabilities to solve complex problems. She also became involved in organizations that helped ensure equal opportunities for Hispanic students like her.

Now a junior at Harvard, Huesa is majoring in Social Studies, with a minor in Global Health and Health Policy. She is fascinated, she said, by identity issues and youth movements in modern-day Spain, as well as the nationalist movement in the autonomous Basque Country, where her family is from.

Last summer, Huesa worked with the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, which addresses the AIDS epidemic in Botswana and southern Africa through scientific and behavioral research. As part of her work, she was able to visit research labs in Africa. Her dream is to open her own lab someday.

Huesa has a busy schedule. In addition to her work on the UC, she also serves as a Spanish interpreter at the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic.


Sruthi Palaniappan (left) and Huesa have adopted the slogan “Making Harvard Home” for the university’s Undergraduate Council. The organization helps ensure the well-being of an increasingly diverse student body. 


Huesa and Palaniappan have adopted the slogan, “Making Harvard Home,” as the UC’s main goal. With more than 50 members, the UC promotes a sense of belonging and well-being for all undergraduates. Offering something for everyone, Huesa said, makes the effort more inclusive and successful.

“I wanted to do things like making sure that all students had access to summer storage,” Huesa said, citing an example of a project that involved everyone. She has also helped students feel more comfortable by helping to create a cultural center.

When asked for tips on successful leadership, Huesa said: “Be kind and respect others. Get to know the people you're leading. When you have a fundamental level of empathy, understanding, and listening skills, outcomes tend to be better. Understanding one’s limits is also an important quality.”

Top photo courtesy of the author; bottom photo courtesy of Julia Huesa