The night before I attended my PLEN seminar, I was nervous. But not just regular nervous; I had that excited nervous feeling that you get when you know that your next experience might change your life forever. As I packed my bags and got my documents in order, I thought about the possibilities that awaited me. I knew that the women I would meet over the next week could open doors to my future. That was exciting – but terrifying!
I learned about this PLEN seminar because my school, St. Lawrence University, is a member institution of PLEN. We have a PLEN Chapter on campus, and St. Lawrence supports students each semester who want to attend PLEN seminars. Our University President Bill Fox and his wife Lynn actually held a reception at their home for women leaders of the St. Lawrence community. I was privileged enough to attend this reception because of my work with the Women’s Resource Center, a theme house and club which discusses and raises awareness of contemporary gender issues and provides sexual health resources. At this reception, I got to meet with other women leaders in the St. Lawrence community and also learned about the opportunities available to us through PLEN.
Since this reception, I knew I wanted to attend a PLEN seminar. I just wasn’t sure which one. I am a psychology major looking for a career in the sexuality field, doing research or education work. While PLEN offers a great variety of seminars, they are mainly based in policy, law, and government. However, I knew that the experience would have an enormous amount of benefit regardless of whether or not it was a perfect fit. I chose the Women in Public Policy seminar because I want to create social change through my work. I knew it would be beneficial to understand the system of law that underpins our social world, as well as the organizations that are doing great work in this area. Additionally, I’m a graduating senior, about to go out into the workforce, and I realized I didn’t have enough practical career skills! I didn’t know much about what jobs were available for me, or how to network, build a resume, and negotiate a salary. PLEN was a great way for me to both build and practice those skills with other incredible young leaders.
I was nervous before I left, but felt right at home once I arrived in Washington, D.C. I had an incredible time at the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar! It was so incredibly powerful to spend five days meeting highly influential women in so many varying positions – it reinforced the idea that I can really do anything! It was inspiring to learn from so many women from around the country and world who were so passionate, intelligent, and driven. I was honored to be in the company of the incredible women who shared their career paths and advice with us.
My greatest takeaways from the seminar came from the skill building workshops. We had a resume workshop, a networking workshop, and a salary negotiation workshop! The skills I learned in these workshops were the kind that are absolutely essential to building a career, yet one never really gets taught. Then, we got a chance to practice our networking skills later on at a networking reception, which was great. As I have launched myself into the job market, I have already applied many of the skills I learned at the seminar! At the seminar, I was able to learn about the networking, job application, and interview processes in ways that have been really helpful and applicable for me. I also got to learn so much about government and policy, which sparked more interest for me in this area.
Since this seminar, I have reflected a lot on the benefits of the experience. It also gave me a connection which might turn into my first post-grad internship! I got to spend the week in the beautiful Washington D.C., creating relationships with other incredible, young professional women and building my network immensely. Meeting with non-profits and policy organizations really fueled my passion for social change, and gave me a better perspective on careers that can help me to create that. Ultimately, though, the best part about PLEN was the people! I am so grateful to all of the professional women who took the time out of their very busy lives to pass their wisdom on to the next generation of women leaders. I am so grateful to the organizers who made this experience run so smoothly for us. And, finally, I am grateful to my fellow PLEN attendees, incredible women who I am truly blessed to have learned from and built friendships with.
Grace Wetzel is a senior at St. Lawrence University, set to graduate this spring. She is a Psychology major with a Biology and Gender Studies double minor. She attended the Women in Public Policy seminar with a partial scholarship sponsored by Erica Dahl and hopes to pursue a career in sexuality education.