Washington has always been one of those places that I had always felt like I would belong. Coming from a rural North Country New York background, I did not have many opportunities to get outside of the realm of my community and really see where I should be, what different career options there were, and what “public policy” really was. With that being said, I always felt the draw to D.C. and meeting people through my various internships who told me about their time in Washington really made me feel like that was a place I needed to spend part of my life in.
I learned about the PLEN Women in Public Policy Seminar from a friend and fellow PLEN alumna after I had just finished working on a campaign in my congressional district and did not have anything to move forward with. She had told me that PLEN changed her life, how she connected with people to network, and the opportunities that were opened up to her after attending the seminar. After she sent me the link and told me about the PLEN Women in Public Policy Seminar, I was hooked. I felt that this was my stepping stone into the world that I had been dreaming about. I immediately started filling out my application for scholarships through PLEN and my university. After about no waiting time, I was accepted and was planning my trip to D.C.
I stayed a week in Washington and absolutely did not want to leave. Meeting such a wide variety of strong, powerful, influential women not only on the panels but in my PLEN group as well gave me such a strong sense of belonging. We were given workshops on how to network, negotiate salary, give elevator pitches, run for office, speak effectively about issues we care about and want to advocate for, and how to make ourselves comfortable at the table because we, as women, do in fact belong there making decisions regardless of what anyone else says. I feel as if this week gave me some of the most real experiences about how to get into D.C., making it work, and how to be successful while doing it.
I am excited to go back to Washington D.C. this summer or within the next handful of years. I am applying to jobs in and around D.C. and law schools in and around D.C. and at other locations in the Northeast at the same time. The seminar affirmed my aspirations in a career in public policy and showed me that there is not a specific path I have to take to get there. I look forward to seeing where the women in my cohort go and what they achieve in the years coming, and I look forward to reconnecting with those I became close with.
The PLEN Women in Public Policy Seminar gave me an endless amount of information, but the key takeaways are not ones you can teach, they are ones that you develop and have to know for yourself. I learned that if the idea of networking terrifies you, think of it as “professional flirting”—be interested and give off positive body language. I learned that moving to D.C. and getting your ideal career fresh out of college is hard. However, it was like that for most everyone. Couch-hopping is the culture and people want to help you succeed. I learned that you do not necessarily have to have your whole life planned out when you get to D.C.—take risks, apply for jobs that you are qualified for but are unsure of because the chance is you will end up in a job you never imagined you would be in and love it. I learned that I should not doubt myself, my accomplishments, my qualifications, my voice, and my individual experiences because the ideas, thoughts, and presence that I bring to the table is an aspect that no other individual can have. I learned that I should never say sorry. I need to take up my space, stand tall, and be powerfully unapologetic about who I am and what I have to offer.
Washington D.C. is like a small community. The degree of separation between everyone is three people—everyone knows someone. That is extremely comforting to me and makes me feel that there is an endless amount of support pouring in from everyone because most people have been in the spot I am in. Young, nearly a college graduate, and scared of making that first move. The success stories, no matter how long it took the women to get in the positions that they are in, shows that it is possible. I feel more encouraged and fired up to move forward in my life to D.C. and make the choices that empower me, as a woman, to take up my space. I would recommend PLEN to any woman because the skills and connections you make within your cohort and at the various events will be life-changing.
Madeline Thibault is an English major at St. Lawrence University planning to graduate in May 2019. She attended the 2019 Women in Public Policy seminar with a partial scholarship sponsored by Erica Dahl.