The Valuable Lesson I Learned from PLEN

As someone interested in international studies, I was a bit wary about attending a seminar labeled Women and Public Policy. I was unsure of what I would get out of it. However, I was available for the dates of the seminar and through the generosity of PLEN obtained a scholarship. I decided it couldn’t hurt to attend.

I need not have worried. One important lesson I learned during the seminar is that Washington D.C. is a fluid place. Whether your interests are domestic or international, you can always find people to connect with. People come and go, positions are vacant and one minute later they are filled. The competition is high, yet there is opportunity here for almost anyone. During the course of the seminar we heard from women who had worked in all different sectors in Washington. A few examples include a woman who served as the head of the public relations office of UPS in D.C., a government relation coordinator who works for the National Alliance of Forest Owners and a woman who had served as national regional director for the 2012 Obama for America Campaign.

My worries about the seminar quickly faded after the first panel sessions. If anything, I was able to take away more from the seminar because I learned so much about important domestic issues I was unfamiliar with. The women who spoke came from such diverse backgrounds that I was able to hear from women in fields I am interested in, in addition to learning about fields I was unfamiliar with. For example, the keynote speaker Laura Holgate currently works on the National Security Council as the Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism and Threat Reduction. She had many valuable insights and was able to provide us with an inside look at U.S. security policies.

As I listened to women talk about their career choices, I began to ask myself: could I see myself in D.C.? The question we are most often asked as children is, what do you want to be when you grow up? We are asked this question when we are five, seven, eight, ten, and are expected to know the answer by the time we enter high school.

Throughout primary school we are introduced to firefighters, teachers, nurses, doctors, etc who always knew what they wanted their job to be. But why didn’t I know? I felt caught between so many different arenas. I was just interested in so many different things, from immigration to mass incarceration, sex trafficking, weapons of mass destruction and even journalism.

What I learned at the PLEN conference is that maybe these varied interests are a positive thing. Not one of the women who spoke at the conference had the same career for twenty years, instead they had all moved between positions. This is the fluidity that is Washington and after attending the seminar I am excited by the possibility of being a part of this vibrant community.


Hayley Schulz attended the 2016 Women and Public Policy seminar as a junior at Hope College.

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