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 msnbc.com. Sarah Handler has been nominated to represent Bradley 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: Sarah Handler
School: Bradley University
Hometown: Buffalo Grove, IL
Concentrations: Industrial Engineering major, Political Science minor
Role in student government: Student Body President, SustainUS Delegate to the 57th and 58th United Nations Commissions on the Status of Women.
Dream job: Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Class year: 2016
What is your biggest challenge as a leader on campus?
My biggest challenge is being seen as a “female leader” and not just a “leader.” Too often, people will pay attention to my gender first and my ideas second, and criticisms can unfortunately become ad hominem attacks rather than critiques of my proposals. Because some view me as the "Female President," and not just as the "President," I feel that I not only have to gain support and respect for my ideas but also gain respect as a woman in this position.
As both the Student Body President and a woman in engineering, I know what it’s like to feel out of place because of my gender. Many of the academic and leadership environments I am in are historically male dominated spaces, and it has been difficult to assuage the lingering feeling that I do not belong because I am a woman.
Which female leaders do you draw inspiration from?
We live in an incredible era of unprecedented opportunities for women, due in no small part to the ferocious trailblazing of so many brave female leaders before us. I draw inspiration from many women, including Maya Angelou, Michelle Bachelet, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Hillary Clinton, who in their own ways have shown how women can defy gender norms to become leaders and innovators in their fields. As a woman in a STEM field, I also draw tremendous inspiration from Sally Ride. When debating whether to study engineering, much of my trepidation stemmed from stereotypes about women in STEM and my false belief that I wasn’t “smart enough,” despite strong test scores, good grades, and a fierce work ethic. In these moments of self-doubt, I would remember how Sally Ride faced considerable misconceptions about her intellect and ability based upon her gender, and how went on to become a highly successful physicist and astronaut despite them. Her resolve to not let her gender stand in her way of success inspired me when I decided to study engineering and continues to inspire me today.
Do you plan to run for office one day?
My goal in my career is to help create a more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable world. In the immediate future, I intend to use my engineering background to help companies and organizations be more efficient and sustainable. Although I currently believe that a job with an engineering focus is where I can make the biggest impact, I intend to remain politically engaged throughout my career, without becoming a politician; I plan to bring my perspective as a woman in STEM to the policy making process. If there comes a time when elected public office would provide the greatest opportunity to make a difference, I would consider running. Until then, I will continue to focus on building a career of leadership and innovation in the fields of engineering and sustainability.
What's the best professional advice you've ever gotten?
Dare to fail. Fear of failure can keep us from taking the risks necessary to pursue our dreams. By daring to fail, I recognize my fear and the possibility of failure, and decide to continue on despite it. Getting comfortable with failure has made me more tenacious and resilient, and has allowed me to get to where I am today. Now, I am at the point where if it has been a while and I haven’t failed at something, I sit down and reevaluate my recent goals and actions, because I likely haven’t been trying enough new things. This mentality did not happen overnight. It has taken me many years to become comfortable with failing and some failures are still more difficult than others. Once I realized that every successful person I admired had faced considerable failures I was able to develop the conviction that I, too, would be able to use failure to generate success. I try to be as transparent as possible about my accomplishments and losses with others, especially younger women, because knowing the many failures someone who seems “successful” has faced can help others be courageous in their own lives. To younger women: I encourage you to “dare to fail” in a way that sets you up for your next success, so that you learn and grow from failure rather than being stymied by it.
What smartphone app do you use the most?
Twitter! It allows me to quickly learn about breaking news while providing a platform for voices that aren’t often heard in traditional media. Having Twitter on my iPhone allows me to stays constantly informed and connected no matter where I am. With so many important social justice issues in the world today, I rely on Twitter to hear the perspectives of those who are directly impacted. Twitter is a powerful organizing tool for grassroots movements, as it can quickly disseminate information and galvanize support.
To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at Anna.Brand@nbcuni.com