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A Running Start: This WSP Student is Helping Change the Face of Politics

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Tracy Hanqing and a friend post at a speaker's at the U.S. House of Representatives, flags on display close behind them.

A little over a year ago, nearly half a million women came together for the single biggest political demonstration in Washington since the Vietnam protests of yore. Fast forward from that historic first Women's March to today, and more than twice the number of women are running for Congress in 2018 compared to 2016. For some, this is a profoundly disquieting trend. For others, like Tracy Hanqing, this statistic is more than just promising; it's game-changing.

"Women make up roughly half of the population, however, only 20% of women hold seats in Congress. Women need a seat at the table, we need to be represented as much as men. And it's particularly important for young women to take that first step of recognizing they are just as capable and qualified as their male colleagues, and therefore just as capable of running for office. Because the biggest barrier for women to run for office is internal, it's often a matter of women simply being told they're not good enough, and then believing it."

Hanqing, originally from Lianyungang, China, is a political science major at Rockford University in Illinois; and when she heard about the Washington Semester Program through a friend in the department, it didn't take long to sell her on the idea.

"Having been at Rockford for two and a half years, I was ready for a change of pace. I'm planning on going to law school after I graduate from Rockford, so the fact that there was a seminar on Justice and Law was perfect. Plus, it's Washington D.C. There aren't a lot of other places a political science major would rather be."

Washington Semester Program student Tracy Hanqing at her internship site, Running Start, in Washington DCUpon her enrollment in the program, Hanqing realized she wouldn't need to search very far to find fulfilling work in her new, temporary home. Since January, she has interned at Running Start, an organization whose mission is, in part, to "address the absence of equal representation in the halls of government."

Hanqing and her colleagues have been working tirelessly to ensure that the opportunity to substantially shift the demographic makeup of who holds office in America isn't one that they squander. She excitedly explains "We do a lot of research in conjunction with the CAWP (Center for American Women in Politics) on the coming midterm elections. We recently found that two years ago, in February 2016, there were only 276 women running for office nationwide. Fast forward two years later, and a little less than double that number of women will be running for office. I just can't help but feel energized by seeing all of these incredible women running to make a change."

While she's currently operating in the realm of electoral politics, Hanqing's true passions lie within the structures of the law.

"I'm planning to go to law school after I graduate from Rockford University, so the Justice and Law Seminar was incredible, in that it gave me a better understanding of the legal system in the United States."

Though Hanqing's experience in Washington Semester Program and at her internship have been transformative, she has not diverted from her eventual career plan to work in the legal field. It has, however, shifted her view as to the change she can effect once she finishes school.

"I don't really think this experience has changed my plans for the future, so much as it's shown me another way in which I might be able to use my degree once I leave school."

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Whether it be through its accredited certificates for working professionals or through its mentorship and internship programs for undergraduates, the School of Professional & Extended Studies (SPExS) provides world-class experiential learning for individuals across all stages of their career. To learn more about how alumni of the School of Professional & Extended Studies are empowering changemakers throughout Washington DC and beyond, visit http://www.american.edu/spexs/news/index.cfm