About Marisa Nowicki: I'm a second-year master’s candidate in public policy and management, with a concentration in international trade and development, at Carnegie Mellon University. I recently returned from a year of study at CMU’s campus in Adelaide, Australia.  I've  worked for the U.S. House of Representatives, the George W. Bush Center and the U.S. Department of State. After graduation, I want to work at the intersection of diplomacy, national security and international development. More specifically, I'm interested in sustainability, poverty alleviation, and global women’s issues. 

Judges' statement

Marisa Nowicki’s exceptional personal statement used her personal experiences deftly to deliver a strong argument for valuing compactness and contiguity in districts - and their importance in achieving effective governing and fair representation. Her goals were extremely well expressed through her mapping metrics and overall design.

Personal statement

I first learned about gerrymandering in middle school. My idealist, young self couldn’t fathom how it was legal. It seemed like rigging the game in your favor. Like most children, I valued fairness and was irritated by the idea of adults cheating. As I grew up, I still saw politics as a game of sorts. Newspapers were constantly reporting on “wins” and “loses.”

Most people seemed upset for a few days after a major loss, and then everything would go back to normal.

As an adult, I began to understand the more serious repercussions of gerrymandering.  I paid close attention to the news and began to realize the countless ways local, state, and federal politics impacted my daily life. I knew it was essential that I had representatives in Congress who could advocate for me. To gain a better understanding of our political system, I applied to a five-month, full-time internship with Congress. I spent the final year of my undergraduate degree taking online courses, preparing for graduate school, and absorbing as much as I could about D. C. politics.

Ironically, I noticed the toll that gerrymandering took on those who supposedly benefit from the system. The congressman I worked for was bending over backwards — turning himself into a pretzel — to appease both the liberal slices of a major city and the conservative countryside three hours away. He was put in a position to be everything to everyone. To be fair, his balance was admirable, and he rarely looked fazed by it. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if our representatives could better advocate for their constituents if they had more compact districts.

For these reasons, I prioritized compactness and contiguity. I wanted communities to be represented by the same people, and representatives to focus on specific communities. That said, I also wanted to limit polarization. I recently went to a workshop with former congressman Jason Altmire, where I learned about the importance of competitive districts, and the various factors that can lead to polarization.

While it was not my top priority, I ensured there was adequate minority representation in each district. Moreover, I tried to find a comfortable balance between urban and rural areas. Most importantly, I prioritized equal population size above all else. Our system should be organized so that each person receives equal representation, and each voice adds to the political conversation.