Sarina Divan’s engagement with public policy embodies the maxim, “Think globally, act locally.” The Wharton sophomore initially gained experience in politics and policy through her involvement with the Girl Up campaign of the United Nations Foundation. As a Teen Advisor for this international girls’ empowerment initiative, Sarina learned about the impact that American foreign policy could have on the lives of adolescent girls around the world. She explains that, “through Girl Up, I had my first real exposure to policymaking as I lobbied on Capitol Hill for bills that would improve girls’ access to education globally.”
Sarina took the lessons she learned from this experience and brought them to bear within her local community in upstate New York. In addition to founding a chapter of Girls Up at her high school and involving more of her classmates in that effort, Sarina started to intern in local political offices—first within the Office of the Mayor of Buffalo, and then, last summer, in the district offices of her two state senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer. In all three offices, Sarina focused on figuring out how to improve and develop the relationships between elected officials and their constituents. In Mayor Byron Brown’s office, Sarina helped organize events to “make the local government more accessible and connect residents to City officials and resources” by making a variety of high profile local officials—from the Mayor himself to commissioners and directors of city programs, as well as other City Hall staff—available at public forums. Sarina enjoyed getting to see “the economic progress in Buffalo and the positive ways in which people interacted with their government, which was encouraging.”
Sarina’s positive experiences working in the policy realm shaped her approach to getting involved in clubs on campus. She joined the Public Policy Initiative Student Group (PPISG) straightaway and immediately sought a leadership position. The fact that PPISG is nonpartisan was appealing to Sarina. She explains: “I did not want to wind up in an echo chamber; I wanted to hear diverse opinions on different policies.” In addition, Sarina was drawn to PPISG’s mission of getting students to engage in research and writing about a variety of policy topics. Now a sophomore, Sarina has become the Vice President of Internal Affairs for the club, in order to “foster the type of community I sought when I was first applying for clubs during my freshman year.”
While Sarina enjoys the breadth of policy knowledge she gets from being a member of PPISG, she aspired to go further with it, and thus joined the Public Policy Research Scholars (PPRS) program, which allows her to make public policy a part of her academic course of study, and to develop “a foundational skillset of analytical and research tools specific to public policy.” PPRS encapsulates the reasons Sarina is enjoying her time at Penn so much. As she describes it, “Penn allowed me to home in on this interest in a practical way and provided me with a wealth of opportunities, from the insightful speakers that frequently visit campus, including Vice President Biden, to the opportunities at Penn and in DC with the Public Policy Initiative.”
With still more than two years to go in her undergraduate career, Sarina realizes she has many more things to yet explore. Her plans? “I hope to find a research position on campus, specifically focused on public policy. I also hope to discover new academic interests outside of public policy as I start taking courses beyond the core curriculum. For this summer, I am searching for a public policy internship abroad, as I want to gain additional global experience while still working on policy.” Looking even further ahead, Sarina remains certain that whatever she pursues post-Penn will involve policy research. That seems “all the more important in the current rhetoric-based political climate,” Sarina observes. “A research-based lens is crucial to looking beyond partisanship and truly evaluating policies,” to understand what will advance the common good.