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ASU grad’s service in student government helped hone her passion for policy

Hanna Salem in front of Old Main at ASU's Tempe campus

ASU grad and Tempe Undergraduate Student Government President Hanna Salem.

May 10, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Tempe Undergraduate Student Government President Hanna Salem’s biggest takeaway from Arizona State University was learning to think holistically about inclusion in her path to leadership. 

One of the first things she got involved with at ASU was the Tempe Undergraduate Student Government. Salem started her college career as an intern for USG and ended up as the student body president of the Tempe campus. She's currently finishing up her term.

“I’m very proud of winning my campaign to be student body president, but within that I’m really proud that me and my team have been able to accomplish all of our campaign promises,” she said.

Salem was especially proud of her team's work on providing free menstrual hygiene products in ASU restrooms and increasing financial aid to students.

Her involvement in USG is one of the factors that led to her choosing her major, public service and public policy with a concentration in law and policy and a minor in women’s and gender studies. 

After changing her major several times, Salem realized her passion for political science and policy from the work and from the people she surrounded herself with.

“It's made me realize that I'm going into the right career path, and I’m still passionate. This really secured that public policy and public service is something I want to do in the future,” she said.

During Salem's ASU career, she earned the Spirit of Service Scholarship and Dean’s Scholarship. Overall, Salem said her experience at ASU was invaluable.

“Even though I didn’t expect to come to ASU, I had the best time here and I am so appreciative to every single person who has made my experience what it has, so thank you to ASU,” Salem said.

As she prepared to graduate, Salem reflected on her time at ASU and her advice for students.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I had changed my major like three or four times before becoming a public policy major. I just wasn't really happy with the prior majors I had chosen, and I knew that there was a thing in me that wanted to help people. I just didn't really know how I wanted to do that. 

I think the “aha” moment for me was when I was just surrounding myself with a lot of public service and public policy people and I realized that these were the conversations I wanted to have too.

I am incredibly happy with the decision [to change majors] and a lot more passionate about my academic work than I was at the beginning of my ASU career.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective? 

A: I think my biggest takeaway from ASU has been how to live my life with the charter in mind. It's changed my way of thinking and how I think about actions and avenues within my life. 

I’ve never really been in a place where diversity is so celebrated. So now that I have that foundation, I feel like my actions and the way I make decisions is totally altered thanks to the ASU charter. I just have a better way of approaching problems now that I am looking at things more holistically than I was before.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Something that I challenged myself with at the beginning of my fourth year was to say yes to everything. I really made it a point to go to events that I would never really typically go to. That’s helped me a lot in terms of making friendships and new relationships but has also made me appreciate ASU in a completely new way. My biggest advice is to just start early and take advantage of all the opportunities and events.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I really liked the location; I really liked that it felt like a mini city within a bigger city. I really don’t know what came over me, but I was like, "I think that this is where I need to be." It was a very last-minute decision, but it was a great decision nonetheless.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Definitely education. I think education is the root of all of our problems, but I also think it’s the solution to all of our problems. So if we invest more time and money into youth essentially we are going to have a better and stronger society, economy and world in general.

Written by Madeleine Williamson, Sun Devil Storyteller

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