The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.

Today’s Q&A feature is Mari Manoogian, Former Digital Engagement Director for the U.S. Department of State and Birmingham, Michigan native. Mari graduated from Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University with a Master of Arts in Global Communication and International Organizations. During her studies, she interned for then-Congressman John D. Dingell, the Council on Foreign Relations, and for Ambassador Samantha Power at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Mari volunteered in global education programs for DC public school students, teaching public speaking and research skills through Model United Nations, and was an active member of the GW College Democrats. After graduation, Mari worked in the Office of English Language Programs at the U.S. Department of State. While working with foreign and civil service officers, Mari set her sights on a career in public service. Mari is also an active member of the ACLU, NAACP, Sierra Club, and St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Dearborn, Michigan. We caught up with Mari to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to future leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

Growing up, politics and current events were discussed at our dinner table each night. Both of my parents worked in career fields that served the community, so they set a very strong example of work ethic and service for my younger sister and me. My mother is a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and my father is a retired labor union representative. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be in public service, because I was raised to believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at living in a safe, healthy community, and that families deserve to raise their children and retire with dignity.

How do you define a leader?

To me, leadership means putting the team above yourself, and making sacrifices for the community a leader serves. Leaders work to create change for the greater good and understand that each member of the community brings a unique set of strengths to the table. Strong leaders know how to draw out each of those strengths in their community members and harness them for the common good. A few ideal qualities I look for in a leader are strong communications skills—including being an active listener—the ability to lead by being a good role model for others, and being strong, yet compassionate.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders ?

Right now, as a candidate for State Representative, it is very important to me that we engage young leaders on our campaign. Understanding that our state policy makers are creating a Michigan that is not just for today, but for the next generation, we’ve put together a team that involves community members across all ages. We know that our strength is in our diversity, so ensuring we welcome people who are new to politics, or have not had the opportunity to be part of something like this before, with open arms is something my team takes great pride in.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

Do not let anyone tell you it’s not your turn to lead. Change by its very nature is not an easy prospect, especially when leaders who are atypical or non-traditional step forward to lead. Remember that leading doesn’t always mean talking, and in fact it more often than not means being a good listener. And, most importantly, invest in the time it takes to create meaningful, lasting relationships.