Commentary: Voice of a Seven Sisters Undergraduate

Hannah Smith is a sociology major at Bryn Mawr College. A native of Baton Rouge, Hannah will intern this summer for Senator Mary Landrieu on Capitol Hill. Hannah has been a volunteer for political campaigns that include Andy Kopplin for Congress and Obama for America. She has blogged about race for The Christian Science Monitor’s, “Patchwork Nation,” and for The New York Times, “The Choice” about her decision to apply to women’s colleges. She currently writes a student blog produced by Bryn Mawr College’s Communications Office. 

As an aspiring “woman in public service,” what do you feel are the greatest unmet needs for women leaders that WPSP can address?

The mere idea of women holding positions of power needs to be considered normal. While in high school I was rarely taken seriously when I said I wanted to one day run for public office because it was a rarity for women to aspire to careers in politics. I find it refreshing that at an all women’s college there are no limits placed on what women can do; the student government president, the leaders of clubs, sports teams etc. will always be women.  This is, unfortunately, still uncommon at co-ed schools.

How did you develop an interest in politics and public service, and how has mentorship contributed to that interest? 

I vividly remember the turmoil surrounding the 2000 presidential election and knew then that I wanted to work in politics. These feelings were reinforced during the 2008 presidential election; especially watching Hillary Clinton make 18 million cracks in that “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”

In addition, mentorship has greatly contributed to my interest in politics.

I am certain that growing up having a female senator is one of the reasons I am so passionate about running for office. I have been laughed at multiple times when I say I’d one day like to run for President, but growing up having a female senator who has made an incredible difference for our state (particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) makes my dream feel attainable.

Furthermore, the summer after my freshman year at Bryn Mawr College, I interned for the lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group in Baton Rouge. Liz Mangham, one of its founders and a graduate of Brenau Women’s College, hired me immediately upon hearing that I was interested in politics and attended a women’s college. It’s important for young women like me to have successful mentors like Liz, who has given me a much greater understanding of the Louisiana political system.

As a student at one of WPSP’s partnering institutions, what are your hopes for WPSP and how do you think it can best serve current or recently graduated students?

I was initially thrilled at the induction of the women in public service project, but saddened that undergraduates at the partnering institutions did not have very much involvement. I hope that there will be more of a push within the partnering institutions to encourage women to pursue careers in public service through lecture series’, clubs, etc. I also hope the project will not only provide a network for women aspiring to work in public service with those in established positions, but also with other aspiring young women. I also hope to see the relationships between the students at the remaining seven sisters strengthened by the WPSP.