Rutgers Senior harnessed the power of political science

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Although Neha Aluwalia was too young to vote in the 2016 presidential election, it changed the trajectory of her life.

“I wanted to be a teacher since I was little. The 2016 election was a major turning point in realizing that I was interested in politics and had a role to play in politics,” said the Rutgers–New Brunswick Honors College senior. She will graduate from the School of Arts and Sciences with a double major in political science and German studies.

Ensuring fair representation in elections became one of the goals of Aluwalia’s Rutgers experience. In her first semester, she spent over 30 hours registering students on campus for the 2018 midterm elections.

“I learned that voting is not the only way to be civically engaged, but how important it is for me to participate in every election,” she said. In her sophomore year, she tracked the number of women legislators across U.S. territories during an internship at the Center for American Women and Politics, part of Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics.

Throughout the spring, Rutgers Today will highlight the achievements of the Class of 2022 and share stories about the difference our graduates are making in college and beyond.

” It was not easy ; it’s very detailed work,” said Chelsea Hill, the center’s data service manager. Hill was so impressed with Aluwalia that she hired her as a research assistant in her first year. Aluwalia’s main project was to identify elected women in each of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities for an annual county-by-county ballot produced by the center.

“She has a natural seeker’s intuition for how to get the information,” Hill said. Aluwalia searched municipal websites and news articles. In some smaller communities, “she had to do it the old-fashioned way, calling town halls,” Hill said. “We could trust his ability to find the information correctly.”

Aluwalia is proud of the work. “Now it’s around the world, used by advocacy groups to improve women’s representation,” she said.

After taking an Eagleton Institute course on redistricting last spring, Aluwalia became an intern on a project proposing changes to New Jersey’s congressional and legislative districts. Based on data from the 2020 census, the goal was to redraw district lines to better reflect the diversity of the state.

Aluwalia worked with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a member organization of the nonpartisan Fair District New Jersey coalition. She studied the demographics of the communities and gathered feedback from residents.

The 21-year-old testified at a New Jersey Legislative Breakdown Commission hearing in November, explaining why it made sense for her hometown of Plainsboro and nearby West Windsor to be lumped together on the New Jersey legislative map. the state. She explained that the cities shared a regional school district and recreation programs, and both had high percentages of families who emigrated from Asian countries.

“The immigrant population is an essential part of the fabric of Plainsboro and West Windsor,” she said during the virtual public hearing.

While the state map adopted by the state in February kept Plainsboro and West Windsor as separate districts, the number of districts with a majority of residents of color was reduced from 15 to 17.

Aluwalia joined the Rutgers University Mock Trial Association as a freshman, serving two of her three years as team captain and hosting the annual meeting invitational tournament. “I learned about law and politics and spoke in front of people,” she said. Aluwalia became a mentor for new team members.

As the main ambassador of Rutgers Honors College, Aluwalia helped new students acclimatize and find their niche. She said being part of this lively learning community provided her with extra support and a sense of belonging when she arrived at Rutgers. “It’s come full circle: I loved my experience here and I want to share it,” she said.

Aluwalia had no intention of majoring in German, but took courses to meet Honors College requirements. She had chosen to study German in high school only because her twin sister, Ruchi, also a senior at Rutgers Honors College, had learned French. But she learned to love the language. In 2020, Aluwalia participated in a study abroad program in Berlin, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After graduating in May, Aluwalia will do a one-year scholarship in Germany that combines her two majors. She will spend two months studying the language and a semester taking political science classes, followed by a six-month internship in her field.

Aluwalia intends to pursue a career in law. “I hope to use my time in Germany to further explore the types of law that interest me,” she said. Employment and labor law, immigration law and international law are all in the running now.

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