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Women in Politics: College Edition – American University

Welcome to Women in Politics: College Edition, where women leaders in student government across the country will be featured on

Welcome to Women in Politics: College Edition, where promising women leaders in student government on college and university campuses across the country will be featured on Nausheen Rajan has been nominated to represent American University as a leader making a difference not only through key issues on campus, but in bridging the gender gap in politics.

As part of msnbc’s “Women in Politics”  series, these hand-selected women become part of a larger discussion of women candidates and women’s issues on a national level. “Women in Politics” features newsmaker interviews, profiles, photos, and deep dives into the key conversations.

Name: Nausheen Rajan

School: American University

Hometown: Winter Park, Florida

Concentrations: International Relations, Asian Studies

Role in student government: School of International Service Undergraduate Council (School Council under SG) – President 

Organizations involved in on campus: 

  • U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council Student Chapter – Founder, President
  • Moqah Mentorship Program for Pakistani Girls - Founder
  • Member of Young Women Leadership Council for The New Agenda
  • Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Sorority

Dream job: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations or Deputy Secretary of State, and Founder of my own NGO that looks to empower the youth and women in conflicted regions in the world (conflict-resolution programming).

Class year: 2016


What is your biggest challenge as a leader on campus?

The hardest part about being a female leader is accurately representing the interests of your student body. The School of International Service (SIS) is a world-renowned school for foreign relations, which means there is a lot of diversity within that specific school. SIS also hosts a large majority of the student body. I constantly want to be sure I am providing a platform for every single person to be heard as a leader.

The other challenge has to be actively engaging and gaining the attention of students in a manner in which they are comfortable enough to turn to SIS Undergraduate Council (SISUGC) to discuss both ideas and issues/challenges that need to be addressed by SISUGC. We want men and women of any sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, race, etc. to be able to approach us and talk to us about how they envision SISUGC’s role to be.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to know the effectiveness of an initiative you begin or an event you put on. Some may directly have an impact on your student body, and others won’t—so what exactly is the right balance? Decisions for events then go back to financing, planning on logistics, etc., which can go to waste if an event or initiative isn’t able to reach out to the masses of your student body. It is always about striking the right balance, when the right balance is constantly changing. 

Which female leaders do you draw inspiration from?

There are many female leaders in our world today. From Sen. Gillibrand to Secretary Hillary Clinton to Humaira Bachal, young women have many examples of leadership to follow—which means our society is moving towards the right direction. Personally, I have had the opportunity to work with former Deputy Assistant Secretary Fatema Sumar while I was interning at U.S. Department of State. Her hard work and dedication is evident in everything she has accomplished, and her work ethic is a testament to all that she will accomplish in the future. She led the Department’s New Silk Road and Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor initiatives focusing on expanding Asian economic connectivity through regional energy markets, trade and transport facilitation, customs and borders harmonization, and people-to-people linkages. She has also authored several high-profile committee reports on Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Central Asia and worked extensively on foreign assistance oversight, including legislation tripling U.S. civilian assistance to Pakistan while she was a Senior Professional Staff member at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I am so lucky to have been mentored by her in the past.

I can particularly relate to her because she is a female Muslim-American. She has whole-heartedly dedicated her life to public service, and she uses her voice and experiences to further the policy agenda. I hope I can embody a bit of her leadership style and tenacity going forward in my own endeavors. Today, she is the Regional Deputy Vice President for Europe, Asia, Pacific, and Latin America in the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Department of Compact Operations.

Other female leaders I look up to are former Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, former Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal, Ms. Shamila Chaudhary, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia Alyssa Ayres, and of course the many female professors in my life who have made an impact on me as a student.  

Do you plan to run for office one day?

I haven’t thought about it! All I know is that I envision myself dedicating my life to public service. If I can make an impact without running for office, then great. If one day I feel that it is necessary to be in office to make a difference, then maybe I will run for office. It all depends on who the leaders of tomorrow will be, the type of world we will all be living in, and the bureaucracy in which I will have to work. More importantly, it’ll depend on what my niche will be within these frameworks and the type of mobility I’ll have to work within them. 

What's the best professional advice you've ever gotten?

There are three pieces of advice that I live by every day. 1. Always ask yourself the question “why.” Having a thriving curiosity is integral to both personal and professional growth. Question things that don't sit well with you, ask WHY something has to happen in one way and not the other, even question your own actions so you are able to learn from your experience in order to be a better person tomorrow.

2. Your identity is your greatest strength, not your weakness. What has made you who you are today is unique. No one person is alike. Don’t try to assimilate into an environment thinking you want to be like everyone else. The world will never grow if we allow ourselves to be comfortable with an identity we haven’t chosen for ourselves. I am proud to be a female, the child of immigrants from Pakistan, a first-generation student, a Muslim-American, etc.—these markers don’t limit me, but enhance me. Who you are as an individual is your greatest strength.

3. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Be ambitious, strive to learn from others so that you may achieve whatever you want to in life no matter how obsolete it may be. The sky is not the limit—you set your OWN limit. You can reach far beyond the sky if you choose that as your limit. 

One word to describe the 2016 campaigns so far …

Senselessness vs. Sensibility.

Follow Nausheen on Twitter @NausheenRajan & check out all of msnbc's featured student leaders right here!

To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at