When I was a junior in high school, I took a Scientific Ethics class and fell in love. I knew from the second week of class that I wanted to study and have a career in bioethics. The difficult thing about passions is they do not always provide a clear path to careers. I came to college and planned to become a nurse, as it was a safe choice that would guarantee me a stable career because I didn’t like the idea of having an uncertain future. I started taking nursing classes and after one semester I knew it was not what I wanted. I wanted to study medical ethics and politics, but I was hesitant as I had no idea what kind of future it would lead to. I decided to put aside my hesitations and go for it, and switched my major to Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Now, two years later, I believe that was the best decision I could have made.
A month ago, when I was asked what my plans for my future were, I could tell you what I wanted to study in graduate school, but when it came to my career, I would spit out the default options that everyone thinks is the future of anyone wanting a career in politics. Even after studying my degree area for two years I did not know what career opportunities were available to me after I graduated. I wanted to study bioethics and had a passion for medical ethics and healthcare policy but had no idea what careers existed in this field. I was stuck in the bubble of being a lawyer or a politician and would still have this narrow view of my options, if not for PLEN. PLEN shattered the box I had put myself in when it came to my future, and the opportunities that awaited me.
I heard about PLEN by chance only a few weeks before the Women and Congress seminar began. The assistant director of my campus’ Women’s Center forwarded me an email that had been forwarded to her from someone who had the email forwarded to them, and so on. She told me she thought this was something I might be interested in, as she knew I was passionate about women’s rights and politics. I looked at the website and within ten minutes I started to figure out how to get myself to Washington DC to attend. The seminar was only three weeks away, but I knew that this was not an opportunity I should give up. I applied for a scholarship from PLEN and for a small grant from my school from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. I learned a week later that I had received the scholarship from PLEN, but had to accept it and register before I knew if I would get the grant from my school. I spoke to my parents and we agreed that this was an opportunity I had to take advantage of whether or not I was able to get a grant from my school. So, I booked my ticket and would be off to DC in a few weeks.
This seminar gave me so many skills that are necessary to be a successful professional, but most importantly it cleared the path to my future. I was so unsure of what was next for me and wasn’t even aware of all the opportunities that stood before me. Every day that week I listened to successful women talk about their careers and how they got to where they are. I went in thinking I wanted to run for office and left knowing that advocacy and lobbying are where my interests lie. I learned about careers I had never considered before and was able to connect with women who currently have the dream job I didn’t even know existed! I left PLEN with a better sense of what I want to do and the realization that the world really is my oyster. I am no longer chained to becoming a lawyer or running for Congress in order to have a career in the field I love. I know now that I can be a lobbyist, work in a think tank, be a policy specialist for an elected official. There are so many careers that will offer me the opportunity to write and influence healthcare policy that are a better fit for me than becoming an elected official or a lawyer. If I had not attended PLEN I would still be on the only path I thought was available.
The information I gained from this seminar was incredibly helpful for my confidence in my ability to be successful as a professional woman, but also refreshed my motivation. The closer I came to the end of my college career the less motivated I was, as I didn’t know what was next for me. I didn’t have a goal in mind, as I was unsure of what I wanted to do next. I then found myself surrounded by thirty inspiring college women and many professionals who reminded my why I was doing this and where my passions and motivations lie. I am not used to being surrounded by passionate, motivated women. I was the only girl in my high school graduating class, a very small graduating class, but the only girl nonetheless. I often find myself as one of the few women in my classes now in college, as the economics and political science portions of my degree are male dominated fields of study. When I arrived at the first seminar on the first day of PLEN I was overwhelmed with the amount of intelligence, passion, and motivation in the room and was ecstatic to see only female faces around me. The energy and supportiveness of this group was unlike anything I have ever seen. Women are typically assumed to be competitive with each other, but this group was the complete opposite. Everyone in that room had the same goal. We all wanted to support the upward movement of women in our nation, and fight for equality in whatever way we could. For some of us that was by preparing to become an elected official and political leader, for some that was by supporting and motivating other women, and for some that was taking every opportunity to become as successful as we can in whatever we pursue. Regardless of what our part in achieving this goal looked like, we all wanted the same thing: to see women succeed.
Since returning from PLEN I feel more excited for my future and optimistic about our nation’s future. I had such an inspiring time that I am working with my university to fund scholarships for other women to attend PLEN seminars so that other women from my school can have the incredible experience that I had. Organizations like PLEN give women the support, motivation, and confidence they need to become the leaders our nation desperately requires. I am more certain about the next steps in my journey and know that no matter what, I have an army of intelligent, powerful, motivated women behind me supporting me each step of the way. When women get together great things happen and this seminar made me sure of that than ever before.
Claire Paulsen attended the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar in March 2018. She is a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, majoring in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. She will be graduating in Fall 2018.