Experience is Key: First Generation Minority Student Finds Passion for Health Policy Career Through PLEN

As a TRiO, first-generation, STEM, minority student, I have had opportunities to apply my collegiate education and learn new workplace skills through research opportunities, internships, and leadership programs. I had a wise mentor once say to me, “Experience is the key” and “if you want to learn about policy, you need to go to Washington DC”. Thus, in January 2019, I was accepted into the Washington Center Academic Internship Program, a career-readiness program designed to prepare undergraduates to become working professionals in their dream careers. My internship was with Guide Consulting Services, a small boutique lobbying firm addressing national health policy initiatives. While working with my internship as a Policy Assistant, a PLEN Alumna introduced me to the Public Leadership Education Network and shared her life-changing experience at a past PLEN conference.

After learning about the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar, I realized that this may be a life changing and career altering opportunity so I took the initiative to apply for a PLEN scholarship to attend. Until moving to D.C., I had limited experience of seeing women and people of color working in upper-level leadership positions. Coming to the PLEN Seminar, I hoped that I would see a diverse range of women influencing and changing policy – to ultimately show myself that I was not trying to achieve something impossible.

Since I began my undergraduate studies, I always had a love for health and always fought the urge to become involved in political sciences. Every day, I envisioned myself designing research studies and using the results to inform others about current issues and prospective solutions to make healthcare more efficient and accessible to all. However, shortly after beginning my internship, I realized that policy and evidence-based research drives the leading conversations in innovative ideas and solutions for concerns affecting our communities.  

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Lovely and her fellow PLEN attendees during the Women in Congress Seminar

The seminar EXCEEDED my expectations! Every speaker was engaging, informative, and I learned a wealth of information that has changed my perspective of my career. I connected with many leaders who were influencing policies such as opioids, substance use, education, and more. Moreover, I learned about the top 10 tips of networking in DC, the difference between local, state, and federal policy, how to lobby my representative’s office on a bill, specific legislative concerns on opioids, crisis response, and I even learned how to run my own electoral campaign for political office.

Additionally, the seminar increased my exposure to industries intersecting with healthcare, such as transportation, crisis response, educational policy, and so on. I impressed myself by going to talk to my own representative’s Health Staffer on an issue near and dear to my heart, the presence of human trafficking in Orlando, Florida. It felt empowering to have someone listen to my concerns and develop or support pieces of legislation focused on constituent priorities.

Moreover, as a senior graduating in August 2019, I am in the process of searching for employment with a health policy organization. Many of the mentors, speakers, and moderators offered advice on my career choice and shared my resume with companies they had relationships with.  Each mentor was truly invested in helping me reach my goals, which uplifted my hope and confidence to achieve my dreams and reach for the stars. I was happy to have the opportunity to hold informational interviews with PLEN mentors from companies that I dreamed of working for. They all prepared me on how to get involved in the workplace and shared information about the workplace culture, assignments, and professional growth opportunities. My network and understanding of the workforce has grown tremendously due to my involvement in the Public Leadership Education Network.

Overall, some lessons I learned from the PLEN Seminar are:

  1. Be open to learning new topics and meeting new people.
  2. Develop your personal and professional support networks.
  3. Face new challenges with a positive attitude.
  4. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
  5. Embrace who you are as a person.

I left a lot behind to come to DC and have a moment to simply invest in myself. I miss my family, friends, and mentors dearly; however, I took this semester to learn who I was, what I wanted to do, and discover what my passion would lead me too. I gained an immeasurable amount of insight into my field through attending this seminar. During and after the seminar, I motivated myself to connect and reignite the conversations I had to learn about their experience, career path, and find direction to what I wanted to do for a career. It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to be confident in my skin as a Haitian-Afro-Latina and know that there is a career out there for me to discover. I enjoyed sharing my accomplishments and goals with other students and Alumnae Mentors. The PLEN Seminar instilled the confidence in myself to go after my career choice and accept the person who I have always wanted to be.

Lovely and other PLEN students on Capitol Hill outside the Cannon House Office Building

I am super thankful for this experience as it pushed me past my professional insecurities: to find my career in health policy and showcase my passion for the job. Being a part of PLEN gave me the answers to be successful in my job search, chart my career path, and grow my confidence as a woman in leadership. Even while attending the PLEN Women and Congress Seminar as a commuter student and a senior from a non-member institution, PLEN still built a great experience for me that I loved and enjoyed! I loved the personalization of the conference and the ability to get to know women in high places of leadership who all serve as mentors and examples to me today. I am so thankful to have many women from PLEN be a part of my life – because they played a huge role in helping me find my career path in policy. I encourage all students, especially seniors, to take advantage of what the PLEN has to offer, and challenge themselves to learn more about what they want to do in your career. Remember, experience is the key and PLEN unlocked my path to success and enhanced my professional confidence and leadership skills! THANK YOU PLEN!


Lovely Davilmar is a senior at the University of Central Florida graduating in August 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences. She attended PLEN’s Women and Congress seminar in March of 2019.

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