Political Science Class Changed Course For Alumna

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Upon receiving her Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University in 2020, Navi Dhaliwal ’16 reflected on how a comparative politics class at Dominican University of California changed her educational and career path from possibly majoring in pre-med or biosciences to majoring in Political Science.

She thanks Alison Howard, chair of the Political Science and International Studies department, and political science professor Gigi Gokcek, now Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education, for that.

Navi at the time was exploring various majors at Dominican because at Franklin High School in Elk Grove she enjoyed history and was intrigued by governance. She met with Howard who suggested she take comparative politics with Dr. Gokcek. Navi embraced the class then tried to figure out if she wanted to pursue international relations or the domestic track. She wound up taking general political science track classes both recommended.

“This is one of my most favorite stories to tell because both Gigi and Alison were supportive and patient when it came to my entire college career and the soul searching I had to do before making the switch to becoming a political science major,” says Navi, now Government and Community Affairs Officer for CalTrans in the San Mateo County Transit District. “Gigi, Alison, and (professor) Christian Dean have enthusiasm for their courses that is infectious. I highly recommend students take a Political Science department course as an elective. I did, and I ended up falling in love with the subject after sitting in on one class. The rest, as corny as it sounds, was history.”


Navi replaced her dream of someday becoming a doctor with a goal of using the critical policy analysis skills she developed to help serve those in need of support.

“I realized pretty quickly at Dominican that my interests were not so much inside a hospital, but out in the field or in a policy setting where I could engage and advocate for health-related issues,” Navi says. “Looking back now, I am so thankful to have taken a few Biology classes because, in policy research, we will frequently test hypotheses. That background provided a little familiarity — and comfort — in my statistics courses.”

It was a brochure featuring photos of Edgehill Mansion and Edgehill Village that first prompted Navi to visit Dominican. Once on campus, it felt like it was the place to stay.

“Even today, it feels like a whole other world,” she says.

Navi jumped at leadership opportunities. She joined a Campus Ministry-inspired "Social Awareness" campaign because, she says, “as a young Sikh woman attending a Catholic heritage university, I was eager to discuss shared values that I had brought with me to campus with those from different religious backgrounds.” 

In 2015,  Navi, thanks to a heads-up from Alison Howard, applied to and was accepted as a USF McCarthy Fellow in the Office of State Senator Jerry Hill. She became one of the first non-USF students who entered the program, which helped her explore state-level policymaking and the intersection of big tech and the federal government.

Then, in her senior year, Navi became president of Associated Students of Dominican University (ASDU).

“Dominican is a small tight-knit community, and you can tell almost immediately upon entering the campus. Every student feels like an ally, and I believe this motivated me to get involved with ASDU,” Navi says. “I think my main goal as ASDU president was to normalize students having conversations that are typically polarizing to see that you can meet somewhat in the middle and at least walk away with something you may not have known.”

Navi, who was alumni chair of the MPPA program at Northwestern, was living in Chicago with a vision to soon work with legislators and key leaders on important policy issues in a director-level advisory role. She immersed herself in program/policy evaluation, analysis, and development at Northwestern, her dream school.

“My previous political science coursework and leadership opportunities at Dominican,” she says, “laid a foundation in understanding the legislative process, some of the challenges policymakers face when attempting to implement legislation, and how to network to become familiar with opportunities available to you.”

At Dominican, Navi also learned the value of networking and community building. She says its small campus is conducive for students to engage with one another, staff, and faculty to build the foundation of what their future has the potential to become.

“There were so many people who were instrumental in helping me reach my goals; not only professors but the staff at the library where I held a work-study job for all four years, the student engagement and leadership staff in Edgehill, President Marcy, and the various executive members on our campus,” Navi says. “But most of all, the students, people I still check-in with, and value today were so critical in my personal development and pursuit of higher education. Dominican taught me that you have to put in the work and dedication to achieve the goals, but also you have to lean on your community, your support system, to help guide you in the right direction.”

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