Reaching Across the Aisle

I first heard of PLEN from my sister. A few years ago, I remember her coming back home from PLEN’s “Women in Health Policy” seminar, proudly wearing her NIH hoodie that she had bought during her time there. As a pharmacy student, she did not know how she could plug in to her interest in politics before attending this seminar. She came back with a sense of renewed purpose in her pursuit of science as PLEN provided a variety of resources and information on how she can plug in science in the realm of politics and public policy. Little did I know that I would have the same reaction coming back home a few years later from a PLEN conference.

Before PLEN, I’d attended a number of conferences and seminars on professional development, women in politics, entrepreneurship, public policy advocacy, and so on. However, PLEN’s Women and Congress seminar exceeded my expectations. From the panels to professional development workshops to networking events, I was constantly writing down meaningful tips, suggestions, and contact information to follow up on after the conference. During lunches and commutes to and from events, I spent my time engaging with the cohort, whom I found to be extraordinary, each with their own stories of success and passion to make the country a better place.

From my interactions with the students and speakers, what surprised me the most was the common goal to uphold certain values beyond the distracting nature of political debate and the differences between party lines. Speakers and students ranged in the political spectrum. Yet, they all seemed to want the same kinds of virtues to uphold our democracy in best serving all our communities. As an immigrant rights activist, it’s often difficult to see beyond the debate and political discourse to find the common values inherent in both sides of the aisle. Though I’ve met and interacted with folks who did not identify with my political party, I’ve gotten to understand the importance of listening and engaging with those on the other side of the aisle as most of the speakers stressed the significant impact of working together to move any legislation, policies, agenda forward.

In all, I hope that the relationships I’ve made, lessons I’ve learned, and skills I’ve gained will recycle back to my community back at Rutgers, Newark, and New Jersey. I am now a proud PLEN alumna and look forward to giving back to my PLEN community going forward!


Esder Chong attended PLEN’s Women and Congress seminar with a scholarship partially sponsored by Ellie Shaw. She is a rising senior at Rutgers University-Newark, studying philosophy. She is also the founder and president of RU Dreamers, a student advocacy organization that supports undocumented students’ access to higher education. Through RU Dreamers, she pushed for immigrant inclusive policies and programs such as the Undocumented Student Services office at Rutgers-Newark and has received a proclamation from NJ Governor Murphy for her ongoing activism. Esder has interned for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the George Washington Law Immigration Clinic in Washington DC. As a DACA recipient, Esder continues to advocate and lobby for state and national legislation that supports undocumented, DACA, TPS, and DED holders. 

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