This year’s presidential election is a momentous one for Sanaa Khan, and not just because the candidates represent starkly different approaches to governing. The UC Irvine sophomore majoring in political science will cast her first vote for president next month. And she’s making sure her peers perform their civic duty as well.

Khan spent much of Welcome Week registering students to vote as part of a drive by the Associated Students of UCI. For her, being able to participate fully in the democratic process is cause for excitement.

“It’s the nerdy version of turning 21,” she says of turning 18 and registering to vote. “Voting is a simple step you can take to make your voice heard.”

Khan has seen firsthand how one can bring about change through political engagement. She spent the summer in Sacramento as an intern with California Common Cause, a nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to accountability and transparency in government.

“It was incredible because of the way I was able to apply what I learned in class to the real California political arena,” she says of her internship.

As part of it, Khan worked on two bills that were recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The first, SB 1001, will increase the registration fees for lobbyists and political committees and use the funds to update the state’s disclosure system. The second, AB 1436, will extend the voter registration period to Election Day.

Khan collected letters advocating same-day voter registration from Common Cause’s coalition groups and testified before the state Senate and Assembly on behalf of the bill.

“As a student involved in the voter registration effort – and one who knows firsthand how difficult moving around can be for registration – I wanted to express my personal support for [AB 1436] in a formal fashion,” she says.

Khan’s parents immigrated to the United States from India before her birth. She was raised in Norwalk and Cerritos, immersed in Indian culture and Islam.

“I have so much to contribute because of my diverse background,” she says. “Our political system needs varied perspectives because of globalization. There is truly a need for different types of diplomacy as we move forward.”

A member of the Campuswide Honors Program, Khan is the 2012 recipient of the Nicholas Aeberhard Memorial Award, given annually to an outstanding UCI freshman based on personal integrity, leadership, academic achievement and civic/campus involvement.

“Sanaa approaches her education with a sense of purpose but also with a splendid sense of joy and enthusiasm,” says Mark Petracca, UCI associate professor and chair of political science. “Having a student as self-reflective and articulate as Sanaa on our campus and in our classes is an extraordinary gift.”

- Laura Rico, University Communications
- photo by Steve Zylius, University Communications


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