Reem Elsaad has been the management and administrative intern for the mayor's office since summer 2022. She has been getting an up-close view at the council's work and the way the mayor's office operates.
Elsaad said she is the only woman who works with the Tempe City Council and city officials wearing a hijab.
"I'm the only Muslim. I'm the only Arab," Elsaad said. "There are a lot of Muslims who will hide ... girls who wear a hijab, we can't really escape."
Elsaad, a senior studying political science and global studies, works directly with Tempe Mayor Corey Woods and she said she has gained a better understanding of the importance of local government.
"When I started working in local and state politics, I realized, 'Oh, wow, you can actually get more done doing relationship building and working with the different organizations around you,'" Elsaad said. "Finding resources and creating those connections, you can create a lot more change and dialogue there."
As a woman who wears a hijab in Arizona and is in politics, Elsaad said she has been the center of attention for women trying to break through the glass ceiling for what Muslim women can accomplish.
"It's still pushing the barriers, we're still having to tap on the glass ceiling," Elsaad said. "I've done a little bit too much tapping for me to just continue doing that because if I do, nothing's going to happen."
Elsaad's achievements during her time at the University include her expected graduation with two bachelor's degrees and three certificates, including one in Arabic studies. Wid Alsabah, a graduate student studying biomedical engineering and the president of the Muslim Student's Association at ASU, said Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab are showing people what it means to practice Islam.
"If we're unable to voice something, we show them what it is," Alsabah said. "I try opening up and answering questions or showing people what Islam is like through character."
In Congress, no woman had ever worn a hijab on the floor until 2019 when Democrat Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was sworn in as one of the first Muslim women in the House of Representatives. Elsaad said as she prepares to move to Washington, D.C., this summer, she understands there will be a learning curve.
"There's a lot of Muslim organizations that do work on the Hill, and they do placements within congressional offices on the Hill. But I know a lot of them still haven't had a lot of contact with Muslims," Elsaad said. "It's going to be a learning experience again."
In Arizona, around 1% of adults are Muslim, according to Pew Research Center. Namir Sabuwala, a freshman studying electrical engineering, said as the number of Muslims in America changes, so does their expression of their identity.
"The idea of being a good Muslim has changed for the younger generation," Sabuwala said. "From what I have seen, being a good Muslim means following and believing in the core values of Islam to the best of each person's ability."
Elsaad said over time, she and other friends who wear a hijab have grown to appreciate their style and appearance. Elsaad said she is working to break the mold of what careers people in her community can achieve.
"Once I started loving it and loving myself, it was just like a lot easier to just get comfortable within myself and my own style," Elsaad said.
Edited by Shane Brennan, Piper Hansen, Greta Forslund and Anusha Natarajan.