An alumnus who once ran for Student Association president will be Virginia’s next education secretary, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Atif Qarni, a 39-year-old middle school teacher in northern Virginia’s Prince William County, graduated from GW in the early 2000s with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He will be the first education secretary to move into a cabinet position directly from a teaching role in at least 10 years, The Post reported.
“I bring a lot of field expertise, which was really needed,” Qarni told The Post. “This is a dream come true as an educator, because I can work on a larger scale now.”
He was appointed to the position by Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat who won the state’s closely watched gubernatorial election last month. Qarni said his priorities will include addressing educators’ wages and reducing class sizes, The Post reported.
After graduation, Qarni served in the U.S. Marines Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. He received a master’s degree in history and a teaching license in secondary education from George Mason University in 2007.
In 2013, Qarni ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates, losing by about 500 votes to Republican incumbent Robert Marshall. He attempted to run again in 2015 but fell short in the Democratic primary.
While at GW, Qarni was the president of the Pakistani Students’ Association and ran for SA president in 2000, though his name was removed from the ballot because of a paper mistake from a University department. He was later put back on the ballot, but lost the race after capturing 9.5 percent of the vote.
He was also a member of the SA outreach and undergraduate policy committees and served as vice president of the International Student Society and a volunteer coordinator for Miriam’s Kitchen.