A professor and mentor introduced me to PLEN towards the end of the scholarship application deadline. Scrambling to scrape together recommendation letters, find funding, and construct coherent essays, I felt a distinct pull to complete my application and do it well. I have never felt so proud of a gut feeling! A week at the PLEN Women in Public Policy seminar opened my eyes to the differing paths and end-points that are available to people pursuing politics. Being from suburban Arkansas, these paths never presented themselves clearly to me. Not many women in the south are involved in politics, much less young, Democratic women.
However, as a result of the recent midterm elections, over one-hundred women are now holding seats in Congress. As I watched this happen, I found myself pondering: “if a woman, or even a person, can do it, why shouldn’t it be me?” Last summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I interned with the Minority Caucus of the Arkansas State House. Of the 100 members of the House, only 16 were women. During my tenure, I saw four more women win races during the primaries. These were races that I worked on, if not just to do menial tasks. I was the one inputting data into the Voter Action Network and scraping together donations and organizing fundraisers. This was a feat of women helping women! And seeing women win motivated me to work harder as the school year started back. The PLEN seminar allowed me first-hand experience on how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level, giving me the key consideration that my understanding of state work was previously missing.
Directly before attending the seminar I took a course in Public Policy. I do not think I fully grasped the interwoven nature of the policy making process until hearing from someone in each and every role I had acquired conventional knowledge about. Over the course of a week I learned from a vast area of professionals– congresswomen, think-tank counsels, program founders and directors, and lobbyists. Before PLEN, I didn’t even know some of these jobs existed! For the fall of 2019 I will be returning to D.C. to participate in The Washington Center Academic Internship program. Part of this experience is participating in a self-placement into a company. PLEN provided me with the network needed to make an informed decision, or to even get a foot in the door at certain places.
Furthermore, hearing from powerful women in my dream leadership roles inspired me to make the most of my upcoming time in DC. I no longer have the security blanket of being merely “a small-time girl from Arkansas.” I am well-informed, prepared, and part of a network of incredibly powerful women from all across the country. I need to develop my professional skills. The seminar showed me that there are exhaustive career paths in Washington D.C., and that women are more than capable of pursuing any and all of those careers. After I attended this seminar, I have been empowered to remember that change is happening. And more will happen as my lifetime goes on. Women participating in leadership roles and holding positions of power is now becoming a norm and is in my grasp. Still yet, being around such amazing fellow students motivated me to continue to fight more and more for the ever-increasing importance of equality.
Programs like PLEN are directly responsible for uplifting women. Being a part of this network increases the responsibility I feel to succeed in my career. The ladies I attended the conference with motivated me to be better and showed me the strength in diverse interests. I want to reflect well on the program and provide past and future PLEN participants a positive connotation in every context I encounter. I hope to one day be able to come back to PLEN as the professional I aspire to be. Hopefully, I can inspire other young women as the panelists did for me. I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way in order to further my understanding of my place in the political world. I am forever grateful for the skills, contacts, and experiences gained through my time, if only a week.