When I flew into Washington, D.C. in the early spring of 2016, I was in my third year of school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and only 10 credits away from graduating. While I loved my school (despite the frigid winters), the lectures and homework had begun to feel like an interruption from my job and internships. During the flight from the snow to the cherry blossoms, I contemplated taking the fall semester off to work in D.C. as a constructive change from the classroom. I thought that the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar could help me make connections to find an internship or temporary position in Washington while I took time off from school. By the end of the week, PLEN had inspired me to do so much more.
The PLEN Women and Congress Seminar gave me the confidence to graduate a year early and start pursuing work that would be meaningful to me, and hopefully make a meaningful impact in many people’s lives. Women in an incredible variety of positions came to speak to the seminar. From work on the Hill to a political party’s headquarters and a lobbying firm, each woman I spoke to loved something different about her job, and about life in Washington, D.C. During the week-long seminar I felt energized, not only from the warm weather I was enjoying after a long Wisconsin winter, but from the fast pace of the town, and the passion everyone felt about the work they were doing. Most importantly, every woman was excited to talk to the students in the seminar, and could not wait to lend us a helping hand. While D.C. can have a dog-eat-dog culture, I found an incredible network of support through PLEN, where women embedded in the political world want to see other passionate women succeed. More than anything, the welcoming community I was introduced to through the Women and Congress seminar showed me that Washington, D.C. was a place I could see myself thriving.
The other students in the seminar were equally encouraging and inspiring. My peers from across the country shared their passions openly, and friendships were formed without hesitation. We shared our struggles in affording college while finding (often unpaid) work experience, shared our fears in approaching the competitive job markets in D.C., shared many laughs, and created great memories while motivating each other to strive for more. The women I met in the seminar have stayed in contact, inquiring about each other’s coursework, sharing tips on networking, and continuing to support our goals, sympathize with our failures, and applaud our successes.
PLEN showed me that I have the skills and the drive to enter the workforce. While I previously doubted the amount of work experience I had, the seminar encouraged me to look at what I had already accomplished. I learned to know my worth and was pushed to challenge myself beyond the work I had been doing back in Madison. Thanks to the encouragement and the constructive feedback I received from PLEN seminar students, staff, and speakers, I returned home to fill out my application for graduation, and will be finishing my degree this summer. I cannot wait to return to Washington, D.C., hopefully for much longer than a week this time, and I now dream of being able to mentor passionate, politically active women, just as the women of PLEN mentored me.
Tazmin Kaldhusdal attended the 2016 Women and Congress seminar as a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.