Donya Nasser '15C

An Advocate for Women, St. John’s Student Eyes Political Future

Donya Nasser ’15C speaks—and acts—with the certainty of one who discovered her purpose in life early. The government and politics major was recently named to the National Student Advisory Council of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which promotes equity for women through education and advocacy, and was named one of AAUW’s first U.N. Youth Representatives.

Nasser traces her interest in politics and social justice to when, as a high school student in Florida, she joined Youth in Government, a YMCA-sponsored program allowing high school students to participate in mock legislative sessions. This experience cultivated her interest in political activism, which she has continued to pursue at St. John’s. 

“Donya’s ‘hammer-to-rock’ approach has meant taking rigorous courses in the Honors Program, doing  high-caliber research, pursuing challenging internships and service activities, and even establishing her own not-for-profit organization,” said Konrad T. Tuchscherer, Ph.D., associate professor of history.

A first-generation college student, Nasser was named a McNair Scholar this fall and delivered the 2013 inaugural speech that addressed the program’s goal of helping underserved students pursue a graduate education. She also launched the St. John’s chapter of the student-run Roosevelt Institute, which develops initiatives that bring America’s promise of opportunity within reach for all. ”I grew up in a low-income, single-parent household,” said Nasser, “so I’m very aware of the challenges facing those who are less fortunate.” 

Nasser‘s mother grew up in Iran, where she was forced into an arranged marriage and was unable to go to college or attain economic independence.  “Everything I do derives from my desire to make my mother proud,” Nasser said. “Her sacrifices have given me the freedom to fulfill my potential.”   

Her efforts are starting to garner accolades.  Watch. Her. Lead., the not-for-profit initiative Nasser founded to encourage women of color to run for office, received national recognition in November, when the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW-NYS) presented her with its first Rosalba Polanco Leadership Award.  In addition, Cosmopolitan magazine plans to feature Nasser in its March 2014 issue.

Earlier this year, Nasser, who is vice president of the College Democrats of New York, attended the Harvard Kennedy School 2013 Public Policy and Leadership Conference, which provides opportunities for graduate study, fellowships, and careers for underserved students who are interested in the public sector. 

At the end of 2013, Nasser will join fellow student leaders for a 10-day trip to Israel, through the Jewish National Fund  ”Caravan for Democracy.” “I am excited about seeing Israel up-close, since my family is from the Middle East,” she said. “I want to learn more about the Israeli-Palestine conflict.”

In the future, she intends to return to her home state of Florida, where she hopes to do public policy work before running for state office. “Down the road,” she said, “I’d like to become US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.”

At St. John’s, Nasser makes sure to reserve time in her demanding schedule to serve the University community by working at the Writing Center, where she helps fellow students improve their writing skills, and as president of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society.

“Donya is one of the most ambitious students—academically, intellectually, and politically—that I have ever worked with,” said Jennifer Travis, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the women’s and gender studies program. “In the future, we will all ‘watch her lead.’”