By Sam Starnes

Karanveer Pannu was still in his senior year at Rutgers–Camden when the mayor of Voorhees appointed him to a two-year term to the town’s Zoning Board, making him the first member of the Sikh faith to sit on one of the township’s committees. “I’m grateful because I get hands-on experience learning how local government functions,” says Pannu, who graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in political science, a minor in psychology, and a certificate in national security.

Pannu has lofty long-term goals for public service. After completing a master of public administration degree from Rutgers–Camden in 2021, he plans to attend law school and eventually run for higher office. “My ultimate goal is to be the first turbaned Sikh in the U.S. Congress,” he says.

His civic engagement efforts and commitment to supporting diversity and tolerance date back to his time in high school when he wrote and published a book, Bullying of Sikh American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh American High School Student. Since then, he has traveled the nation as a bullying prevention specialist, speaking at schools and conferences with the goal of reducing bullying while educating fellow Americans about the Sikh faith.

During his junior year at Rutgers–Camden, he worked with the New Jersey State Police to educate officers about the Kirpan, a sword of varying lengths (often a small knife) that is one of the five articles of faith carried by formally initiated Sikhs. Intended to be a weapon of defense, it is often misinterpreted as threatening. With the support of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, he connected with State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan to make a video to educate police and the general public about his faith and the Kirpan. In summer 2019, Pannu served as an intern in the Bias Crime Unit of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

Pannu said he initially was nervous about attending Rutgers–Camden, but that feeling quickly went away. “I had a slight fear deep inside that someone would hurl racial epithets as soon as they saw my turban,” he said. “However, that fear never grew because my first day on campus felt like I was home. I saw and met students of all backgrounds, and I immediately understood that this campus takes its diversity seriously. Every day I have grown prouder of having chosen to attend Rutgers–Camden because I see the desire of faculty and students alike to move beyond acceptance and tolerance with the goal of promoting love and inclusiveness.”

A 2016 graduate of Eastern Regional High School who has worked as an intern for U.S. Senator Cory Booker and U.S. Representative Donald Norcross, Pannu has been an active and frequently honored member of the Rutgers–Camden community during all four years he has been on campus. In 2019, the Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences awarded him the Robert D. Packard Memorial Award, which goes to a student majoring in political science, for academic performance and service. In 2018, he won a Rutgers–Camden Chancellor’s Civic Engagement Award. He recently has been honored with inclusion in three honor societies: the National Political Science Honor Society, the National Leadership Honor Society, and the National Psychology Honor Society. He also has been very involved with the Rutgers–Camden Sikh Students Association, which works to broaden the understanding of the religion in the campus community.

He says earning his degree in political science is only the beginning for him. “Being done with my undergraduate degree feels great, but the journey ahead is long,” Pannu says. “I’ve loved my overall experience at Rutgers–Camden and I will definitely cherish my time here.”

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