Sarah Bana always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: an FBI agent.

"I'd read a lot of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, and I wanted to save the world," she says.

She still does, although she's going about it in a different way. A fourth-year quantitative economics major at UC Irvine, Bana hopes to become an economist — "maybe even chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve," she says. And the case she hopes to take on: improving people's lives by influencing financial policy.

"You can change the life of a child when you read to her, or a homeless person when you serve him food," Bana says. "But I'm interested in economics because I'd like to help eliminate the root cause of poverty. There's a lack of equal opportunity in our society because many people can't afford a higher education. You can drive just 20 minutes from UCI to a shelter in Santa Ana filled with homeless people. Everyone should have access to a good life — especially an affordable, high-quality education — and it's our responsibility to help those who don't.

"I want to give people opportunities to succeed. Economics has made me think about what happens when you invest in people."

She's already investing heavily in the campus and community. Bana was elected this year's executive vice president of Associated Students of UCI, and she has been volunteering since her freshman year. She led the UCI chapter of Circle K International, receiving the 2009 Anteater Award for President of the Year from the Office of the Dean of Students while the chapter won the service organization award.

Bana has helped feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, and she tutors elementary and middle school students once a week at the Boys & Girls Club of Tustin through a Circle K program she co-created as a sophomore. She's also been active in the campus's Cross-Cultural Center as an outreach intern, urging other students to get involved.

In her new ASUCI role, Bana will chair the Legislative Council, oversee the Lobby Core Course, be a political advocate for UC students at the state level, and serve on the board of the University of California Students Association, which comprises executive vice presidents from every UC campus and strives to give students a voice in UC governance.

"It's important to share our concerns with the regents and state officials," Bana says. Asked to cite students' most pressing issue, she replies without hesitation: "The budget crisis."

She traveled to Sacramento this summer to meet with legislators about funding and will return in January to lobby on students' behalf. After getting her bachelor's next June, she plans to study economics and public policy in graduate school.

"I want to work on large-scale public policy initiatives," Bana says. "Too often, people are viewed as numbers or statistics. Policymakers don't think how tax increases or rising tuition fees will affect families. I'd like to change the way the world views economics and people."

Sherwynn Umali, director of campus organizations in the Office of the Dean of Students, which nominated Bana for a Living Our Values award in 2008, says: "The accolades and awards Sarah has received at UCI are a testament to her work in making this campus a more socially conscious, welcoming and fun place. I have no doubt that when she graduates, she'll continue to have the same impact on the rest of the world as a leader dedicated to service and social justice."

--story by Kathryn Bold, University Communications
--photo courtesy of Steve Zylius, University Communications

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