HFC student selected to statewide Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force

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Zena Sattar Aljilehawi (left) and Rashida Tlaib (right).

HFC Honors Program student Zena Sattar Aljilehawi (pronounced "al-jill-a-howie”) was one of 30 college students statewide who were selected by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to serve on the Michigan Department of State’s Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force (CSATF) for the 2024 election cycle. She was also rewarded a Democracy Fellowship, which provides $900 per semester.

“I’m honored and excited to have been selected for this position!” said Aljilehawi, of Romulus. “It’s absolutely surreal. I’m excited to engage my fellow students about voting. We are encouraging them to vote and to get more engaged politically.”

CSATF’s goal is improving youth voter engagement and civic involvement

Founded by Benson in 2019, the CSATF’s goal is to improve youth voter engagement and civic participation. CSATF members serve as student liaisons between the Department of State and their campus populations. This nonpartisan group will advise about the unique experiences and barriers of student voters, helping to ensure the voices of young people are heard as they exercise their right to vote in Michigan’s elections. CSATF members serve as liaisons between Benson’s office, their student body, college administrators, and their peers.

“The new members of the CSATF represent a strong base of active, informed young voters in our state,” said Benson. “I’m proud that Michigan led the nation in youth voter turnout in the 2022 election. This group of young leaders will keep up the momentum statewide and provide valuable insights on how best to engage voters on their campus. I look forward to our work together.”

Michigan voters ages 18-29 had the highest voter turnout rate in 2022 of any state

According to a study conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, MA, Michigan voters ages 18-29 turned out at a rate of 37% in the 2022 midterm elections, higher than any other state CIRCLE analyzed and significantly higher than the national average youth turnout rate of 23%. Michigan was one of only four states where youth turnout was higher in 2022 than it was in 2018.

“We want to keep that trend up,” said Aljilehawi. “We are researching the factors that led to this high turnout and want to replicate them for the next several elections. As fellows, we are educating young people about the realities of voting. It is important for them to get involved in the voting process and engage in their community; that is their voice!”

Bridging the gap between the policymakers and the youth voters

The CSATF members will serve through December 2024 with optional enrollment in a paid Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellowship, a project of the Fair Elections Center, which is a national, nonpartisan voting rights organization.

“My position is to bridge the gap between the people who create policies in Lansing and the people who are affected by these policies. It is important for students to pre-register to vote when they’re 16, so they can vote when they turn 18,” explained Aljilehawi. “For many students, politics is an abstract thing that they feel doesn’t pertain to them – ‘How does it affect me?’ Politics impacts everyone! It especially impacts education from pre-school to the college level. Students should be concerned, because this is their future.”

Healthcare practitioners need to be involved in healthcare policies

Born in Iraq, Aljilehawi is the eldest of five and a first-generation college student. Her younger brother also attends HFC. She is one of the Henry Ford II Honors Program’s student success coordinators and one of its inaugural Mellon Fellows. She served as a student moderator at the Women Leaders in Government Conference on Thursday, October 26.

After she graduates from HFC and earns her associate degree in biology in 2024, Aljilehawi plans to transfer to either the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, or the University of Michigan-Dearborn. After she finishes her bachelor’s degree, she plans to attend medical school with the goal of becoming an OB/GYN.

“I have had my peers approach me and ask, ‘Why are you so interested in social justice and politics? You’re a biology major.’ The reason is healthcare professionals are impacted by healthcare policies established by politicians, which can hinder or support the way medicine is practiced,” explained Aljilehawi. “As a future healthcare professional, it is important to get involved with the decision-making process of healthcare policies. It is essential for healthcare professionals to use their expertise and work together with politicians to create postive healthcare policies. All STEM students need to be involved with the political process. All students, in fact — they cannot afford not to be.”

“One of our shining lights”

HFC math instructor Sam Bazzi is Aljilehawi’s mentor in the Honors Program.

“I could write a whole page about my interactions with Zena. I am not surprised that she was selected for this position knowing about her amazing qualities and abilities,” said Bazzi. “Zena is very passionate about giving back to her community and helping others, including her fellow students. With her great communication skills, Zena can easily convey her thoughts and ideas, and positively influence her peers. Another outstanding quality of Zena is her remarkable work ethic, which makes her a great addition and valuable asset to any team.”

Aljilehawi has worked closely with HFC political science instructor Dr. Anthony Perry.

"We are very proud to have Zena Aljilehawi as one of our shining lights,” said Perry. “She is a brilliant and engaged student who shares her time with the community, caring about the community, and serving the community. She is in the Honors Program and has shown leadership and integrity in everything she undertakes. As a member of the HFC student body, she makes her fellow students and our institution a better place as she inspires everyone around her to give extra effort."