Legislative Leader

Middle Eastern studies, economics undergrad Rawan Abhari is planning for a career that will change the world
| Wed, 03/15/23
Rawan Abhari
Rawan Abhari. Photo by Amy Walden.

Rawan Abhari darts between topics with the confidence of a seasoned public speaker. She interrupts herself to take a breath before jumping back into the conversation — international law, economics, climate science. Weaving together a broad tapestry of themes, she navigates complex issues with ease.

Abhari has been a force of nature since arriving at Florida State University in 2019. She’s ascended to leadership roles on and off campus, even helping secure $5.4 million in funding from the Florida Legislature. While she’s already making a difference in these roles, her true passion lies in supporting legislation in response to climate change.

The FSU senior is presently laying the foundation for a legal career by pursuing dual degrees in Middle Eastern studies, through the College of Arts and Sciences, and economics, via the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. Ideally, she’ll incorporate economic frameworks into public interest law to tackle climate injustice domestically and abroad.

Abhari with Samantha Gomez on Landis Green at the start of the semester, Spring 2023. Courtesy photo.

With her busy schedule, it’s no surprise the Missouri native covers ground quickly in conversation. Outside the classroom, Abhari devotes ample time to public-service organizations within the FSU Student Government Association like the Freshman Leadership Institute and Noles Engaged in Politics. In 2022, Abhari was named a John Robert Lewis Scholar, one of 10 students selected nationally by the Faith & Politics Institute, which aims to strengthen leadership to advance democracy and bridge differences for the common good.

“When I think of an ideal ‘Nole, I think of Rawan,” said Zeina Schlenoff, professor of Arabic studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics and director of the FSU Middle East Center. “I can’t wait to see how far she’ll go and how many glass ceilings she’ll break.”

Abhari confidently calls herself a lifelong learner. Rather than creating strict boundaries between work and life, she energentically intermingles the classes and extracurriculars she says come together to prepare her for a career and shape her as a person.

At FSU’s Middle East Center, which administers the Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic degree programs, Abhari explores foreign policy interests while pursuing Arabic fluency. Though her Palestinian-Jordanian parents spoke Arabic and English at home, she didn’t regularly speak Arabic back. These days, with five semesters of study under her belt, Abhari is confident in her fluency, if not her pronunciation. 

Abhari alongside fellow undergraduates Ashley Gonzalez Ferraro and Marcus Williams outside the Westcott building. Courtesy photo.

“Being able to speak Arabic to my parents is a source of pride for them now but also a little comedic as I definitely speak with an English accent,” she said.

Abhari has also sought opportunities to enhance her fluency in politics, including legislative internships at the Florida Senate, Florida House and on Capitol Hill where she worked as a policy intern with the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Being located next to the Florida Legislature has provided me with real-world experience alongside my educational experience, something you can’t do unless your university is in the state capital. I think Florida State is lucky to have this close relationship with our state government.

— Rawan Abhari

“Being located next to the Florida Legislature has provided me with real-world experience alongside my educational experience, something you can’t do unless your university is in the state capital,” Abhari said. “I think Florida State is lucky to have this close relationship with our state government.”

As executive director of the Student Government Association’s Office of Governmental Affairs, Abhari’s team supported the Open Educational Resources Initiative, a state-wide database for free and open-license educational materials. Although ultimately vetoed, the Florida Legislature passed this initiative with $5.4 million in funding to expand textbook affordability across the State University System of Florida.

Abhari, executive director of the FSU Student Government Association’s Office of Governmental Affairs, giving introductory remarks at the Seminole Evening reception, Spring 2022. Courtesy photo.

“Rawan is determined to make a difference in this world,” Schlenoff said. “I’m continually impressed by her devotion to the ideals of human rights, peace and social justice. We feel lucky to have her as a student and with the Middle East Center.”

Abhari draws inspiration from her family’s experience with climate change in Palestine and Jordan, which are among the many nations worldwide considering how climate challenges like increasing extreme weather events will shape their fiscal, diplomatic and national security policy.

International climate agreements can make a difference for these countries, and that’s where Abhari sees herself. After graduation, she’s planning a gap year to gain experience in the legislative or executive branches of government or public interest law firms before applying to graduate programs. Her objectives include earning a master’s in economics and a Juris Doctor, and she’s targeting Harvard and New York University for their competitive programs in international and climate law.

“My ultimate career goal is to work in climate justice,” Abhari said. “I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, and I want to defend the climate and climate crisis victims... For me, it’s not simply that I want a career — I want a career rooted in something important.”

Dena Reddick is an FSU alumna who earned master's degree in history in May 2020.