Applying for internships in DC is notoriously stressful. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the vast amount of opportunities and the pressure to apply to the right places. As I was searching for opportunities to add to my seemingly never-ending spreadsheet of organizations in DC, PLEN immediately stood out to me. Because I had previously looked at attending their Women in Health Policy seminar, their website looked familiar. I started to explore all the pages and I ultimately spent most of my time reading through students' experiences on The Plenary. Reading all of their stories, I heard how PLEN had helped them grow their networks, learn what it means to work in public policy from successful women, and challenged them to advocate for themselves in the workplace. I knew that interning at PLEN would be the best opportunity for me. The stories from PLEN alumnae made my internship choice an easy decision.
Even after I figured out my summer internship, I was still worried about feeling overwhelmed in a new city. However, because I am here with the Wisconsin in Washington DC Internship Program, I live with, take classes with, and meet so many other interns working in DC. We bond over the discomfort of the hot and humid weather, our desire to explore everything DC has to offer, and our shared passion to work in public policy. Although it is great to meet professionals for coffee and expand your network at events, everyone always says that your fellow interns will be your closest network going forward .
One observation about DC that I made almost immediately is that the city revolves around work- for better or for worse. Walking to the metro on my first day, I shuffled through crowds of interns and young professionals running across the street in their comfortable chacos and pant suits. This work-centered culture is also evident when you meet someone new. For example, the second question most people ask after your name is, “What do you do”? The city’s youthful ambition could be misunderstood as transactional, but I have found it to be very supportive. I have met so many successful and kind working women who have been generous in their advice and support for a new intern like myself. Because many of the professionals have previously been interns in DC, there is a shared understanding that mentorship is necessary and beneficial for interns and professionals. They know what it is like to move to the city and feel the pressure to grow your network and they want to support you.
No where else was this support more evident than at PLEN. Like many other enthusiastic interns and young professionals, I aspire to work at an organization with a mission that I believe in and feel called to support. PLEN’s mission of preparing more women for leadership positions in public policy sounded like the perfect place to work as a woman who wants to go into public policy. In addition to the personal satisfaction of supporting their work, my internship at PLEN has shown me the tangible benefits of working at an organization that lives and breathes its mission inside the office and in its programming.
From day one, the PLEN staff were open and forthcoming with their advice for a young professional like myself. For example, I was challenged to reflect on my own strengths and ambitions to create goals for this internship, given advice about advocating for myself in the workplace, and supported in my efforts to build my network in DC. The staff also affirmed my ambitions outside of my internship by encouraging me to explore the DC area. I received so many recommendations from places to thrift professional summer clothes to finding the best vegetarian empanadas for lunch.
In Washington, it means something when you say you are connected to PLEN and I saw the reach of their network all over DC. For instance, when I went to a briefing on the Hill about the Hyde Amendment, I found that the event was more exclusive than I was anticipating. However, when I said that I was from PLEN, the organizer of the event was so excited and told me to go right in. PLEN truly lives its mission of preparing women for leadership roles in public policy by challenging students to develop their networks and fostering a work environment that is empowering and supportive.
I am thrilled to be working with PLEN this summer. Although I have not yet attended a seminar, my experience working here has inspired me to attend. Because I have seen how much work is put into each aspect of the program, and the vast network that they have, I am confident that attending a PLEN seminar will open the door for my career in public policy. If you want to hear more about my experience at PLEN, be sure to follow PLEN’s Instagram (@plennetwork) to see my Instagram takeover and check the The Plenary for more blogs!
Lauren Hoffarth is a summer intern for PLEN working on projects in the Programs, Development, Communications, and Administrative Departments. Originally from Janesville, Wisconsin, she is now a senior at the University of Wisconsin- Madison studying gender and women’s studies, political science, and global health.