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The 2008 grad takes his passion for human rights to an appointment with the U.S. Department of Justice.

When Drew Henning moves to Washington, D.C., this summer to start his new job, he’ll be putting away bad guys, but he won’t be wearing a cape. The freshly minted University of Iowa graduate in political science and international studies will be compiling cases on suspected criminals as an honors paralegal specialist for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“By working in the civil rights division, it’s a chance to make sure that inequities and inequalities that happen are fully prosecuted and that justice is rendered. I’m looking forward to helping to ensure people’s basic human rights,” says the native of Knoxville, Iowa.

Henning was among a handful of people selected from more than 700 applications to the civil rights division, which handles international human trafficking, police officer misconduct, and hate crime cases. The Justice Department’s Honors Program hires recent college graduates for a minimum of two years.

When he came to college, Henning knew he wanted a career with a global impact. He pursued that vision with a vengeance at the UI.

“I knew that the dreams I had were going to take lots of careful planning. My goals of saving the world were something I was going to have to build the bricks for each and every semester.”

The Iowa native’s passion for politics and cross-cultural learning developed out of friendships in high school. His dreams were birthed from living in a state that is known for its education system, and for a political consciousness that’s befitting of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

When Henning was in high school, he helped his friend’s father campaign for county office. Later, he helped campaign for Iowa legislator David Schrader, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, and Vice President Al Gore in his bid for the White House. In school, he formed fast friendships with exchange students from countries like Azerbaijan, China, France, Germany, Norway, and Russia.

Henning upped the ante when he got to the UI. He went from having pizza with international students and knocking on doors for campaign candidates in Central Iowa to interning with Interpol in Washington, D.C. He also studied abroad in Germany and Turkey, where as a Stanley scholar he researched why Turkish women were still dying in honor killings. He also worked as a research assistant in the UI political science department, and spent two years as an intern and volunteer at the UI Center for Human Rights, in which he visited county detention facilities in Iowa. He was appointed undergraduate director of the University’s Student Legal Services (SLS) his senior year.

Henning’s experience at SLS prepared him for what he will be doing at the Justice Department, says Gregory Bal, SLS’s supervising attorney.

“It gives him a leg up on other people,” Bal says. “His work at the Justice Department is very similar to the work he did here.”

Henning is where he wants to be at the end of his college career, but he’s just beginning to realize his goal of becoming a fighter against injustice. He’s considering going to law school part time at Georgetown or George Washington University while working at the Justice Department, as he hones in on his aspirations to be a public servant, possibly in elected office or as a human rights attorney.

“I have chosen a path that allows me expand on my passion for individual rights and freedoms,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have been placed in the civil rights division, which strives to secure individual liberties on a daily basis.”

Story by Po Li Loo; Photo by Tim Schoon

June 16, 2008



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