Women and Congress: How PLEN Changed My Life

The thought of running for office is not one that had ever crossed my mind as a young child. I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a movie star; not once did I think that I could run for elected office. Flash forward twenty-one years later and now have the tools and confidence that I could someday run for elected office and be successful. This surge of confidence has come from the PLEN Women and Congress seminar.

I discovered PLEN because of my academic advisor, Carly Hayden Foster. She pointed it out to me as something I should consider when I was only a sophomore. Traveling to Washington DC for a week was not a priority for me at the time. I was a young college student, so my priorities were in my college athletics and developing friendships as opposed to developing my career and leadership skills. After I was strongly encouraged, or pushed, to spend my spring semester in Washington DC, I reevaluated attending a PLEN seminar. Soon after I arrived for my spring semester, Ellie Shaw, Luther Alumna reached out to me and I met her for lunch. I learned more about the benefits of attending a PLEN seminar and after reassurance that the Ellie Shaw Scholarship would absolve the financial worry, I knew that it was the right decision for me to take off a week of my internship and classes and attend the Women and Congress seminar.

When I nervously traveled from my apartment in Rosslyn to the hotel in DuPont, I had no idea what to expect. I prepared to the best of my abilities through reading the materials provided and preparing my resume, but I was not entirely sure what to expect. It quickly became one of the most empowering weeks of my life. I was exposed to many different women that I would not have met if it weren’t for PLEN. It was so inspiring to witness so many strong young women who all had different backgrounds, but we all had one important thing in common: a desire to make our country a better place and the belief in each other that we could be leaders in this improvement. I was not expecting to meet such a diverse group of women that I could learn from just through their presence. The speakers were all unique and intelligent individuals who have paved a road for us in the professional world of leadership and politics. I did not expect to learn more about the many different policy careers that are available for me to explore in Washington, D.C.

natalie cote
Natalie and another PLEN student sharing what they learned at the Women and Congress seminar

The notebook I carried with me had upwards of thirty pages of notes all filled with quotes, advice, to-do’s and not to-do’s, so it is difficult for me to pinpoint the best advice I received. I think the theme that I took from the week was to be fearless and jump after every and any opportunity that is in front of you. That is something that I have learned to be true throughout this whole semester. I was terrified to move out to this big city and as it drew near, I attempted to think of ways to get out of my commitment. I am so glad that I didn’t. I took that opportunity that Luther provided me with and it has been the best decision that I have made in my undergraduate experience. I was nervous to attend a seminar like PLEN because I honestly didn’t have an interest in running for Congress. The final push I got from Ellie Shaw was enough for me to take that opportunity, again provided to me through Luther College. The week itself has given me the confidence to take those opportunities, no matter how much they may scare me.

Another critical take away I got from the seminar was how to negotiate salary. This is a tool that I believe every woman should learn. It parallels well with taking opportunities fearlessly, but how to know your worth and demand the compensation that matches it is an important skill for anyone, but especially for women who are entering a man’s field. I am thankful for that workshop that PLEN set up for me.

This seminar gave me the opportunity to meet amazing, determined, strong women who all have big dreams and are refusing to stay silent on topics they are passionate about. To be surrounded with women like the ones who attended PLEN Women and Congress gives me faith in our country’s future. Surprisingly, my career aspirations were solidified after this week with PLEN. It gave me the confidence to consider a career in leadership and pursue reform that I am passionate about. This week has solidified that I want to pursue a career in the legal field as a criminal defense attorney and to make a change in criminal justice reform. Whether that be through a position in the Minnesota Senate or a long career within the system. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that PLEN has created for me.


Natalie Cote graduated from Luther College in 2019 with a major in political science.  She attended the Women and Congress seminar in 2018 with a scholarship sponsored by Ellie Shaw.

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