Looking back at how far you have come along is often difficult to do when everything around you is moving very quickly. There is family, school, personal growth and goals combined into a small box of 24 hours a day. Looking at what made the difference from a month ago, until now is hard. It takes the constant reflection of one’s actions to realize how far you’ve come.
As I write this, I could tell that I’ve lacked reflection, and everyone has at some point. This only led to developing the impostor syndrome because there was no time to extract evidence of the good things I was achieving as time went by, as I graduated high school, as I finished my first year of college, etc. I wasn’t able to describe into words what the feeling was of not being good enough or prepared enough even though the hard work had been put into place. I wasn’t able to deal with it as well because I did not recognize this feeling as valid or true to me. I had one part of myself telling me I had to push through no matter what and another telling me I wasn’t prepared for these massive goals. I wasn’t prepared or built for the goals I was writing myself into for the future.
Though now looking back and reflecting, the evidence showed that I graduated summa cum lade from high school and was accepted into college with a scholarship that would pay most of the expenses. I was grateful for these accomplishments. PLEN helped me realize that I had impostor syndrome for a long time and that taking the time to reflect and be grateful for how far I’ve come to be is just as important as attaining my education.
Without reflections of past successes and learning experiences (or failures), I would not be free of the impostor syndrome. Writing this, I admit that I have not gotten rid of it, but I have learned to deal with it whenever it comes knocking down my door.
PLEN has opened my eyes to a career in policy that I could not have thought I could do in the future. The PLEN experience has meant a lot to me as a immigrant and first-generation college student.
I never thought that as an immigrant I could, in the future, also influence policy because of my background as a minority and underrepresentation of women in politics. As a college student, I believe in the power of professional growth and exposure to new experiences early on to better develop connections, skills and lessons for the future. I want to be prepared for the future workforce. My last two years at Washington College are a preparation for it, and PLEN has helped me develop for it thus far.
I first heard of PLEN from another friend at Washington College. I heard what a great opportunity it would be to connect with other empowered women in D.C. At the time, during my fall semester as a sophomore year, I wanted to do something that would empower me to discover new things and be a part of something bigger. After doing my research, I wanted to attend PLEN because of the growth I would experience in learning from leading career professionals, whom I could look up to in the future. I haven’t been part of a seminar in which I would develop salary negotiation, networking and policy lessons with people who share the same career interests. I knew PLEN could provide me with this experience.
Looking back at my PLEN experience, the seminar exceeded my expectations. I was able to immerse myself with a group of empowered women who impact STEM policy in the D.C area. I expected this seminar to bring me closer to people in STEM and learn negotiation skills, as well as career paths that I could consider in the future. However, what I did not expect was the inspiration that I drew from the speakers. Most importantly, the inspiration that I drew from my peers because at such a young age, their minds, passions, and goals are seen very vividly in a simple conversation. I learned about their different backgrounds and how they got to attend this seminar.
Even though I learned plenty of professional skills and lessons from the featured speakers, I have to admit that the people I got to learn with were what made this seminar one to remember. I took a lot of important advice from my peers that are also dealing with how to set yourself apart in the future workforce. Sharing intimate stories with people that I had met in less than 5 days made me realize that the relationships I was building were special in that this group of young women, through PLEN, had created a safe environment free of judgment and full of welcome.
Everything starts with the people that are brought into a group; if their energy is right, then the environment will be right for anyone to join as well. PLEN has created this kind of environment with its Women in STEM Policy Seminar. This seminar made me realize that the last two years of college will help me prepare for the workforce.
Personally, I was touched by a similar and inspiring story from a scientist at NIH who immigrated to the U.S. not knowing English to study at a U.S. university. I was proud of having more people with this background holding positions where important work is being done. I did not expect that this representation of Hispanic women was exactly what I needed to see because it has inspired me to follow my aspirations to bring renewable energy to people in need of electricity, etc.
I did not expect to leave the conference with a bittersweet feeling. I was happy to have met the people I met, excited to discover what the future holds, and to have newfound clarity on my place in policy work. However, I was feeling already nostalgic of how long it would be until I will meet again with my peers or have the support I had from the young women in the past five days. I’m extremely blessed to have experienced how PLEN was able to bring women together not only through their planning but with their scholarships. Their promise to bring young professionals (us) and the more experienced women willing to assist them in the journey to make good policy was essential to our professional growth.
At the start of this seminar, I came with an open mind about future careers. I was ready to take it all in and consider new career paths because until then, I was not sure how I could incorporate policy work in my career. This seminar affected me greatly because it encouraged me to advocate for the issues I care about. Now on campus, I decided to take a leadership position with the National Organization for Women Campus Action Network club. Also, it drove me to take more international studies courses including Political Science and Economics to learn more about my interest in how policy can be affected by many factors such as social-economic backgrounds, health, culture, etc.
This seminar made me realize that I could do a lot more with a career in policy, but most importantly, I can help people by advocating for important issues, such as the gender wage gap as well as the wage gap between people of different ethnic backgrounds. PLEN speakers were of great help when I was thinking which experiences will be helpful for my future career. Most of all, the speakers served as a guide to future careers. Now, I look forward to seek more opportunities just like PLEN that will provide me with the skills to represent women where they are needed the most.
Valery Tabraj-Huaccachi attended the PLEN Women in STEM Policy seminar. She goes to Washington College in Maryland and will graduate in May 2022.