Maria Vertkin was born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and lived in Israel for five years before immigrating to the United States at age eleven. Through the economic and social hardships of two immigrations, Maria gained firsthand experience with poverty and marginalization, and their effects in every facet of life, from housing to workforce to health. This personal struggle ignited a passion for helping others.
Maria's career began at the nonprofit Rediscovery, where she worked with young men aging out of the state foster care system. That work led her to the innovative pilot program YouthHarbors, which nearly eliminated instances of dropout in homeless unaccompanied youth, a population with an expected dropout rate of over seventy-five percent.
After graduating from Regis College, Maria founded the nonprofit Found in Translation, which provides medical interpreter training and job placement to low-income and homeless bilingual women. The organization enables women to turn their most stigmatized characteristic-their linguistic and cultural backgrounds-into their biggest asset in the workforce. This work has attracted recognition and awards, including the Echoing Green Global Fellowship, the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize, the Richard Cornuelle Award for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list.
Through her work with medical interpreters, Maria's interest in health disparities as a result of language barriers deepened. Although access to a professional medical interpreter is a legally protected civil right, the violation of this right is commonplace and its consequences dire. Maria would like to study public health to understand, and ultimately change, the inequalities at the intersection of linguistic human rights, policy, and health economics.