Since coming to Hollins as a first-year student, Hannah Byrum ’20 has been drawn to the study of legislation enacted by state government and the importance of leadership as it relates to policy.
Beginning this fall, the political science major will immerse herself in what she describes as “the best of both worlds” through the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
“As a student in the MPP program, you get to tackle the most pressing issues of the world in a variety of ways while also working on your leadership and team-building abilities,” Byrum says. “My emphasis while there will continue to be on state policy analysis.”
During her first two years at Hollins, Byrum laid the groundwork for a career in government and politics. She performed January Short Term internships as a first-year student and as a sophomore with government relations firms in Richmond, Virginia, that focus on state public policy issues: Commonwealth Strategy Group and Pickral Consulting. She subsequently completed a summer internship with the constituent services team in the Office of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. In January of this year, she interned with the Office of Delegate Karrie Delaney, who represents the 67th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates. While in the latter role, Byrum helped write several pieces of legislation that were passed during the most recent Virginia General Assembly session.
“The internships provided me with an opportunity to apply what I had learned in class to the real world while also bringing conversation and a new perspective to the classroom,” Byrum says. “Seeing such strong and passionate people representing the needs of constituents and interest groups helped direct my career path of working with Virginia’s lawmakers on legislation.”
After completing her General Assembly legislation work, Byrum noticed discrepancies in how human sex trafficking laws in Virginia were approached. “The political science department requires a research methods course,” she notes, “and that was when I realized I wanted to focus my research on human sex trafficking.” Byrum went on to devote her honors thesis to examining the human trafficking laws and bills that were presented during the 2020 General Assembly.
“I dissect the language in those laws and bills and identify potential inconsistencies that could result in victims not receiving the safeguards and services they need. I make recommendations for language that should be included in future legislation. I also offer general direction for more assistance and general protections under the law that will be beneficial to victims.”
Byrum praises two of her professors, Professor of Political Science Edward Lynch and Assistant Professor of Political Science Courtney Chenette, for having “a substantial impact on my education.” As a student in Lynch’s first-year seminar course, “How to be a President,” Byrum was invited to attend a lecture on international relations and global politics at the University of Virginia. “I knew then how much I wanted to attend UVa for graduate school,” she recalls.
Chenette was Byrum’s thesis advisor. “She has provided so much feedback, encouragement, and excitement for my work,” Byrum says. “I cannot thank her enough.”
The Williamsburg, Virginia, native believes that she would not have had the amount of success she has had at Hollins if it were not for Lynch and Chenette’s support. “Both of them care so much for the success of their students and want to see us work hard for what we want. They aren’t going to sugar-coat things and that’s what makes them incredible as professors.”
Byrum also cites the tools she has gained from her involvement with the Batten Leadership Institute at Hollins. “I can confidently navigate personal, academic, or professional conflict in a way that is extremely effective, and improve communication when tensions may be high. I learned how to be a better leader in every aspect of my life. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Batten when I started my first year, but thanks to (Executive Director) Abrina Schnurman, my experience went far beyond what I could have imagined.”
After completing the MPP program at UVa, Byrum says she “would love to dive head-first into meaningful work with impact at the state level,” whether that is with a government relations firm or state government entity. Working on a campaign or as a legislative aide for a state delegate or senator is also a possibility.
“All I know for certain is, I want to continue to serve my community to the best of my ability, however that may present itself.”