Carnegie Mellon University

Photo of Rehana Mohammed standing with a man

October 05, 2021

Community Connector

Carnegie Mellon alumna advocates for a people-first approach to government

By Kristy Locklin

Rehana Mohammed isn’t your average politician.

While she enjoys her role as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 2 of Washington, D.C., she’d gladly give up her seat to support a fellow do-gooder when election time comes.

“I’m focused on how we can move beyond our individual paths and think about who is in the best position to make the biggest impact,” says Rehana, a civil servant for the federal government and board chair at The DC Center for the LGBT Community. “How can we rally around them and support them, so we can all be successful? That communal framework really resonates with me. I’m looking forward to seeing how things go.”

Rehana graduated from Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy with a degree in public policy and management in 2014 and ran for the unpaid office last year. She felt the incumbent was not addressing the needs of the district, a small, but diverse community where she lives with her wife, Tirna, a 2013 graduate of Heinz College.

Her first day on the two-year job was January 6, 2021, the same day insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.

Watching the chaos unfold in her hometown was heartbreaking, but it also inspired her to do more for her 2,000 constituents and, hopefully, motivate them to support each other.

Even a little bit of kindness can go a long way.

So far, she’s overseen the installation of a bike lane in the neighborhood, helped people without housing find secure housing and services, and assisted a local Latino co-op in securing a $300 grant to buy groceries.

Many of her community members work in food service, an industry decimated by the pandemic.

“It was especially meaningful for them to have their local government official say ‘This is not charity, it’s solidarity.’ It is our responsibility as elected leaders to help,” she says.

Rehana was raised in the Maryland suburbs by parents who worked for the government but weren’t necessarily politically minded. They valued community and what a group of connected neighbors could achieve.

She took that to heart while studying foreign service at Georgetown University.

During her junior year, a friend introduced her to Heinz College’s Public Policy and International Affairs Program Junior Summer Institute, a seven-week training for college juniors that prepares them for advanced degrees and careers focused on the public good. She fell in love with Pittsburgh, CMU’s campus and the curriculum.

“When I first met her during the PPIA-JSI program, Rehana’s natural leadership qualities were evident. She’s analytical, curious, empathetic and driven to improve society,” said Gladys Perez Sriprasert, director of public policy and management programs at Heinz College. “I’m very proud that she is making an impact in her community.”

Rehana eventually chose Heinz for her master’s degree.

“My time at Heinz really showed me the importance of analytic tools and turned me into a policy generalist; taking a systematic approach to a problem — no matter what it is — and breaking that down to make policy recommendations and conclusions,” she says.

After graduation, she did a three-year stint as a White House Presidential Management Fellow and Policy Analyst under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

But it was the pandemic that deepened her passion for local advocacy. Rehana hopes her leadership sparks the same fire in her constituents, whether they decide to run for office, connect with an elected official, volunteer with a mutual aid organization, or just get out and meet their neighbors.

“Politics is seen as an individualistic endeavor. I don’t really buy into that,” she says. “The power is and should always be with the people. I’ve lived in the D.C. area my whole life, and I’ve never felt as connected to the community as I do right now. It’s not a given; you have to go out and make it happen.”