Learning to Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

I received an email from my pre-law advisor during the fall of my sophomore year about PLEN’s Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar. While researching the seminar, I saw that PLEN offered a Women in STEM Policy seminar. As an electrical engineering major, I was intrigued by the topic of STEM policy and honestly did not know a lot about it at the time.  I read testimonials on The Plenary and realized that other participants also did not have a lot of knowledge about STEM policy prior to the seminar. However, they wrote about how attending the seminar gave them valuable insight on a field that was previously unknown to them. Not really knowing what I wanted to do with my electrical engineering degree, I decided to attend the seminar knowing that it would open a whole field of career options for me.

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Cierra Cowley and other PLEN students in front of the Supreme Court

I arrived in DC on a sunny winter day and was immediately enamored by the city; it was a huge change from my little college town in Kansas. I made my way to the hotel, where I met the other PLEN participants. Students from all around the nation had come to DC for this amazing opportunity. It was great being able to meet students from all different kinds of majors and mingle before the seminar. The week that followed was filled with thought-provoking panels and interesting tours.  

Probably my favorite event of the seminar was the small group tour to the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) DC office. We got to learn about the history of IBM and demoed some of their Watson-related products. I even met an IBM employee who got also got a degree in electrical engineering and hope to connect with her later this year at a national women’s engineering conference!

One of the speakers we had that I found extremely interesting was Shaughnessy Naughton of 314 Action. Naughton founded 314 Action because she realized that there was a lack of diversity in the educational backgrounds of our elected politicians. Officials that have obtained a STEM related degree make up a very small percentage of our government, and this is a huge concern when these are people creating and implementing policy on major STEM issues, such as climate change. It’s easy for some politicians to claim they don’t understand science (as featured in a compilation on 314Action’s social media), and use their ignorance to try and invalidate scientific data. Hearing Naughton talk about her mission to get more scientists into office inspired me to contribute to the cause and spread her message.

One piece of advice that was echoed during the seminar is that your life will never follow the path that you plan. All of the panelists were extremely knowledgeable and accomplished women, but not a single one could have predicted that she would end up in the position she is today. They all agreed that you never know where life will take you, so you should be open to any opportunity that you may come across.

I’m glad I attended the STEM Policy seminar. I was exposed to so many amazing people and learned so much over the course of the week. I now have a much better understanding of STEM policy and have acquired professional skills that I can implement into my future educational and professional career.

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cierra cowley

Cierra Cowley attended the 2018 PLEN Women in STEM Policy seminar. She will graduate in 2020 from Kansas State University with a degree in electrical engineering. She attended this seminar with a scholarship sponsored by the Hopper-Dean foundation.

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