After graduating from Barnard with a degree in urban studies and economics, Katherine Kazarian ’12 returned home to Rhode Island, where she planned to volunteer for local political campaigns. Then she learned that the state House of Representatives seat for her district in East Providence was open, and she recalled President Barack Obama’s words at her commencement: “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

She jumped into a four-way Democratic primary with two key volunteers—her mother, Michele Halberian Kazarian ’77, and her sister, Jacqueline Kazarian ’09, who helped her prepare speeches, raise funds, and canvass door-to-door. At 22, following a whirlwind campaign, she was elected the youngest state representative in her native Rhode Island.

Her time at Barnard “really empowered me to do what I’m doing,” says Kazarian, recalling how she gained confidence in her first-year writing seminar with Professor Linn Cary Mehta, learned about school funding issues in Professor Randall Reback’s class on the economics of education, and taught conflict resolution to Harlem schoolchildren though the Peace by PEACE civic group.

“Barnard taught me never to be afraid to get up and speak,” she says.

Becoming an elected official “was definitely a huge learning curve,” Kazarian says. “I had to dedicate a lot of time to figuring out how politics works and how legislation passes.” Her main legislative areas of focus include improving public education and encouraging business development. As an Armenian American, she is particularly proud of spearheading a law mandating that state schools provide genocide and Holocaust education.

On top of her part-time legislative duties, Kazarian works in sales development for UpServe, a technology startup in Providence. She is running for a third term in November and, for now, her political aspirations remain local. “This is the area I know and these are the people I know,” she says. “It’s such a huge honor to represent them at the statehouse.”