A career focused on voting rights

As a Cornell student, Jenna Zitomer ‘18 pursued her love of politics as a Near Eastern studies major and international relations minor, but also found a passion for social impact and advocacy work.

Today, she serves as director of research and innovation at the Voter Participation Center (VPC), a non-partisan organization that works to increase voter registration and turnout rates among underrepresented populations. VPC conducts a variety of studies and experiments, including randomized control trials to test message and format effectiveness in digital and mail programs. 

Her role at the Voter Participation Center involves both research and project management. “I lead primary research projects and run brainstorming sessions to generate ideas, then work on pre-testing those ideas to find the strongest implementation before we run them in the field for a given election,” Zitomer said. “We want to find what types of messages and tactics are most effective at helping and motivating who we refer to as the New American Majority (young people, people of color and unmarried women) to register and turnout to vote”. 

“The most inspiring thing about the work I do is seeing both our standard (and oftentimes, new) messaging strategies and tactics work when we look at impact evaluations after an election," she said. In 2023, the Voter Participation Center helped more than 95,000 people submit voter registration applications in several states. “I love knowing that I'm having a net-positive impact on the representation and health of our democracy.” 

Politics attracted Zitomer to the Near Eastern studies major, but history, culture and language kept her there. “My favorite courses in my major were those that encouraged students to examine and ask questions about the different histories that were told by different groups in a given country or region," she said. "I also just loved learning languages. Hebrew and Arabic were some of my favorite classes.” 

Zitomer’s time as a Near Eastern studies major taught her how to listen to, connect with and learn from people different from her. This is a skill she said she takes with her every day in her work, although few people are willing to leverage this skill in today’s highly polarized political landscape. 

“I think being in a type of major like Near Eastern studies cultivates a very strong interest in how other governments work,” she said. “It also reminds you that democracy is not a given, and that voting is a right we should not be taking for granted.”  

On campus, Zitomer's active engagement to involve others in democratic processes extended beyond the classroom. “I was driving people to the polls my sophomore year,” she said. “I always really cared about voting, and I always felt like it was this amazing privilege and right that everyone should be taking advantage of.” 

While Zitomer’s interest in voting featured prominently in her life both in and outside the classroom, her clubs reflected a wide variety of other interests in public service. 

She was a member of the executive board for Cornell Consent Education, where she led an effort to mandate and facilitate sexual assault prevention information sessions for every fraternity and sorority house at Cornell. Additionally, she worked with an initiative through Cornell Health called Cornell Social Consultants, which worked to brainstorm and implement situational interventions that would make sexual assault less likely to occur on campus. Lastly, she worked with Cayuga’s Watchers, a party monitoring organization at Cornell that worked to prevent threats to health or safety at parties in Ithaca. 

In her spare time, Zitomer continues her love of rock climbing (a hobby that began at Cornell’s Lindseth Climbing Center with her best friend and freshman year roommate) and has finally joined a choir, which corrects the one regret had from Cornell: not joining a singing group on campus. 

Hyrum Edwards is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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Jenna Zitomer '18