As America prepares for crucial mid-term elections, Mary Hassan, a recent graduate in Law from Queen’s University and a former student at Lumen Christi College in Derry, is one of a class of 30 student participants representing Northern Ireland and Ireland in Washington DC this summer as part of the Washington-Ireland Program (WIP).
Mary, from the Culmore area of the city, is working at a prominent lobbying firm, Forbes-Tate, meeting with senior staffers, Senators and Congressmen.
WIP is a cross-community and cross border organisation that identifies promising young people with a commitment to service and a track record of leadership.
WIP builds their skills through work experience, educational opportunity and hands on citizenship both at home and in the US.
In a year of notable global events, the Washington Ireland Program also has cause to celebrate. 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the programme and WIP will be holding a series of events on both sides of the Atlantic to celebrate this milestone.
The application process for the WIP Class of 2014 was highly competitive with more than four hundred students from across the Ireland and Britain competing for the opportunity to take part in the programme.
After the completion of the Washington semester, the graduates will go on to become part of the active WIP alumni network who are working to make a positive difference in their communities.
Mary says: “I have had a fantastic time so far. After just a month in DC, I have worked in the Senate and Congress on behalf of the lobbying firm, been invited for a private tour of the West Wing and the Pentagon and taken for an inside look at the New York Stock Exchange.
“Doors have just been flying open, it has been unbelievable and I’m extremely lucky to be here.”
Mary recently completed an Erasmus year at the University of Salamanca in Spain, having previously studied Mandarin Chinese and International Finance in Shanghai through the Study China Programme.
She has volunteered with youth groups and human rights organizations in El Salvador as a legal language specialist and interpreter.
She says the past few weeks in the US have been an incredible learning experience and a real confidence builder.
“I have been taken to eat at exclusive clubs for Senators, had lunch in the West Wing of the White House with the staff and have been given phenomenal personal development support from the programme.
“The Washington Ireland Program work on building upon existing leadership skills and helping to develop our own network of professionals who can help us affect change in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“I have learned so much about how politics works in the USA, diplomacy, about the American economy and recession recovery, and Ireland’s important relationship with the States.”
And what would the Derry girl like to see herself doing in five years time?
“I would like to be working in the European Institutions in the field of human rights. I want to qualify as a lawyer and continue gaining experience in conflict resolution, international development and human rights.”
Hillary Clinton is just one of a number of influential supporters of the Washington Ireland Program and its students. She has said of the project: “Many of WIP’s alumni are now emerging as a new generation of leaders committed to peace, stability and prosperity in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
If you would like to track the progress of Mary Hasson and others this summer, you can follow their blogs and view photos at www.wiprogram.org.