Sema Hasan

Portrait of Sema Hasan.

Pronouns

she/her

Class Year

2018

Hometown

Portland, Oregon

Major

International Affairs and Mathematics (double)

Extracurriculars

Editor of LC Journal for Social Justice, Cochair for Middle East and North African Studies Symposium, SAAB Tutor (Mathematics), SAAB Representative (International Affairs)
What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Inspiring, supportive, impactful

Where did you find community at Lewis & Clark?

The math department was a really special space for me during my time at L&C. When I think of community, that’s what immediately comes to mind. There is a lounge tucked away, next to all of the professors’ offices, on the second floor of Bodine that is filled with blackboards, couches, and tables. That lounge was one of my favorite places to just sit, think, and chat. At any given time, professors would pass through and pause, sometimes for long stretches of time, to ask students about their work or how their week was going. I really valued those gestures and it was how I got to know my professors well. Beyond that, I loved that the small size of L&C allowed me to walk around campus and see familiar faces regularly.

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

Having grown up in Portland, L&C was always on my radar. I knew I wasn’t ready to part with Oregon and really wanted to attend a small, liberal arts college, so L&C seemed like a good fit. I remember touring the campus and loving the small, welcoming environment.

How do you describe the liberal arts?

To me, the liberal arts is an all-encompassing world that fuels intellectual curiosity. As someone with multiple interests, a liberal arts education allowed me to explore and analyze complex questions from different angles, a skill that has been incredibly valuable.

Why did you major in mathematics and international affairs?

I actually came to L&C with the intention of studying math and English—I wasn’t fully aware of the international affairs major until my first semester. I was curious about global affairs and how countries interact, so I enrolled in Introduction to International Relations with Associate Professor Elizabeth Bennett. I absolutely loved the class because it provided me with a way to analyze the world at both the national and local levels. This led to me declaring a double major in international affairs and math. Math was something I’d also always enjoyed that helped me develop deep, critical thinking skills.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

It’s so difficult to identify just one favorite class, but if I had to pick one from each of my majors it would be Human Rights in international affairs with Professor Heather Smith-Cannoy and Differential Equations with Professor Paul Allen. Looking back, Heather’s course really set my path for future work and graduate studies in motion. She challenged us to examine complex problems surrounding the protection of individual and collective human rights, and to think through nuanced policy-oriented solutions.

Who was your mentor on campus? Why do you consider this person your mentor?

I had several mentors on campus. In the IA department, Elizabeth Bennett and Heather Smith-Cannoy were, and continue to be, key mentors to me. In the political science department, Ellen Seljan was another key mentor. All three of them helped me become a better researcher and scholar by pushing and encouraging me to pursue difficult questions and opportunities I didn’t know existed. In the math department, I valued everyone—but especially Liz Stanhope.

What have you been doing since graduation?

After graduating from L&C in 2018, I moved to Washington, D.C. for graduate school at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). While at SAIS, I studied economics and international affairs, with a focus on conflict resolution and South Asia studies. I also had a chance to work in various settings, including think tanks, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. State Department.

Can you tell us more about your scholarship?

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) will allow me to pursue advanced Urdu language study this summer. The program is funded by the U.S. State Department and provides intensive language study of 15 critical languages for 12 weeks over the summer. It is part of a broader effort by the U.S. government to expand the number of Americans mastering critical languages. Under normal circumstances, the program would take place abroad but they have had to make adjustments to virtual instruction due to COVID-19.

Despite the challenges that a virtual setting may involve, I’m excited to participate in this year’s CLS program. Urdu is not commonly taught in the U.S. As someone with South Asian heritage and whose regional area of focus is South Asia, being able to hone my language skills is a key goal of mine. I would encourage current L&C students to apply for the scholarship if they are interested in gaining greater fluency in a less commonly taught language.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for your graduate studies?

The academic rigor that I found at L&C prepared me incredibly well for graduate school. The international affairs department, in particular, provided a solid foundation for my graduate coursework. The theory and special topics courses I took allowed me to easily transition into graduate-level courses and expand on the work that I’d done at L&C. Specifically, undergoing the process of writing a thesis was one of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of my education at L&C. During grad school, I found myself constantly utilizing the tools I gained from that experience.

Now that you’ve been out of college for a while, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?

L&C taught me how to think analytically and critically, and to really think outside the box to tackle problems from various angles. In particular, all of my international affairs and political science coursework taught me to read critically and write compelling, thoroughly supported research.

What are your career goals after graduate school?

I currently work as a researcher at the Library of Congress’ Federal Research Division, a small but important branch of the library. In this role, I conduct research and analysis on various topics, from economics and technology to foreign policy, for government agencies including the State Department, Department of Defense, and the Department of Education. This position is where all my skills intersect and allows me to engage with interesting policy questions. On a daily basis, I use my math and statistics background paired with my policy experience and writing skills. More broadly, I’ve come to appreciate the intersecting space for research and public policy, particularly as it allows for tackling issues related to gender and underserved communities.