You Can or You Can’t. Either Way, You’re Right

The PLEN (Public Leadership Education Network) Women in Global Policy seminar in D.C. has been one of the best experiences of my life. I owe it to my wonderful amiga, Estefani Alarcon, for introducing me to PLEN. She is also a PLEN alumna; she attended the Women in Public Policy seminar. One random day during Fall 2017, I decided to call her and catch up. (She lives in L.A.). She asked me what plans I have for the upcoming year and/or after graduation. My reply was “Uhhh… I have some idea what fields of work I’d be interested in, but I’m not sure how to get there,” just like any other millennial. She immediately gave me two resources: PLEN and HACU.

I took the initiative and researched PLEN to the fullest extent. I became familiar with the various programs designed to advance women in all fields. I enlisted the help of a long-time mentor and educator, Melissa Gillespie-Bentley, and a distinguished professor at St. Joseph’s College, Kenneth Bauzon, to write a few exciting words about me and my political activism. I crossed my fingers and counted all my lucky stars to be accepted for a scholarship. I wouldn’t be able to afford the seminar otherwise. I thought it noble and true to PLEN’s cause (advancing women) to offer scholarships for disadvantaged women, such as myself. I knew I absolutely had to get myself in this seminar because I desired to lay a foundation in D.C. I desired to learn how other women broke through. My post-undergrad plan involves moving to the D.C. if circumstances allow. My PLEN experience verified my suspicions that D.C. was the right move and the next move. Everyone here walks with a purpose. I hoped that this PLEN seminar would help me build the confidence I lacked and swing open the doors of opportunity. I found that PLEN did accomplish these two goals.

The PLEN Women in Global Policy seminar was my second trip to D.C. However, the week consisted of nonstop rain. Even more so unfortunate, I forgot an umbrella. PLEN arranged for us to stay at the Carlyle Hotel. It was rather elaborate in decoration, the staff treated us well, and I enjoyed my stay of luxury. (They also rented out a huge, sturdy umbrella to me.) I was grateful for having previously visited D.C. because it was beautiful-tourist weather my first time around. My second time was more business-like.

Gaining exposure to successful women, sitting in the U.S. State Department and Senate Office Buildings and inspired by the young women in our group, was truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am entirely grateful for the women who took the time out of their busy schedules and lives to sit down and give us valuable advice, opinions, and their journey to D.C. By all accounts, these highly skilled women are global catalysts yet they reminded us of their humanity. We were constantly told that more women need to be at the table, shaping the policies affecting us and everyone around the world. The seminar fueled my passion(s).  PLEN did a great job at giving a well-rounded exposure to the federal, private, and non-profit sectors. One of my favorite parts was the dinner with PLEN alumnae. The woman assigned to my group wasn’t a PLEN alumna, but her rapport was nonetheless impressive. It was necessary to have the chance to wind-down, relax, and have some pizza after being overwhelmed with information. I also sincerely thank my Mount Saint Mary’s University sisters for the laughs, having people to eat with, and nudging me when I nodded off.

The research is out there. Inclusivity and diversity improves the bottom line. I urge all women, especially targeted women, to show up and show out, in your respective fields. #PLENTaughtMe having plans to become a mother and cultivating a successful, professional career aren’t mutually exclusive. Until that notion is defeated, we have a lot of work to be done. Also, another thing to note is as women and targeted groups, we have to make space for another non-traditional person to take up room.

As I look to the future and my upcoming graduation, I can say with confidence, that PLEN is a great network to be a part of. Here are some recurring themes that have stuck with me since then:

  1. Be your own advocate – YOU CAN OR YOU CAN’T. Either way, you’re right! Believe in yourself to make it happen.
  2. Negotiate that salary.
  3. Demand the support you deserve from family, friends, and employers.
  4. Lastly, don’t take “no” for an answer. Offer an alternative


Jasmin Margarita Tobon is a Business Administration and Political Science dual-major at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, New York. Her anticipated graduation date is May 2019. She is originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. She attended the PLEN Women in Global Policy seminar with a scholarship sponsored by the Luce Foundation. She’s an avid coffee-drinker, Brooklyn Nine-Niner, lover of dogs and cats, and keen advocate for Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities.

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