I didn’t realize a PLEN internship would make such a huge difference in my life – I’m just glad I took that chance and applied.
As a chemical engineering student at Rutgers University, I felt I was one of very few politically versed students in the school of engineering that wanted to pursue a career in the public sector. Due to it not being the traditional path for engineers, I wasn’t very exposed to what it is like for a STEM major in anything but a large, private sector company. I reached out to my mentors at Douglass Residential College within Rutgers University and was asked to apply to the PLEN Women in STEM Policy seminar. Not truly knowing what it was, I applied and hoped for the best, and after hearing from some other alumnae from my school I realized this was a really cool opportunity. Finally, I packed up a bag and took a bus to Washington, D.C.
When I was 9 years old, I told my parents I wanted to work as Representative in the U.S. House - and I was serious! I used to tell my sister to not be silly when we went to tours of Capitol Hill because it was "my future office". When I started to fall in love with learning chemistry and math, I thought that hope of becoming a Congresswoman was gone because I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Feeling disheartened that there weren’t many options for engineers in the public sector without a Political Science background, I gave up on my dream of being a policy influencer…until I actually attended my PLEN seminar.
Attending the Women in STEM Policy seminar taught me a lot about how to launch a career in STEM policy, as well as about the world of nonprofits, health policy, cybersecurity, and much more.
I was able to tour the Union of Concerned Scientists Headquarters, the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Office, Amazon's Washington Headquarters, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and meet congresswomen in the Rayburn House Office Building.
I stood corrected because I was introduced to a multitude of paths an engineer could take to be a policy influencer! The seminar allowed me to meet some incredible women working to change the world, as well as college women who are hoping to do the same in the future. I took pages and pages of notes, exchanged more business cards than I can remember with people I met, and toured some truly remarkable offices to meet inspiring women.
I appreciated the mission of PLEN to increase the amount of women making change in policy and also improve the retention rate of women who pursue policy careers. I asked the manager of the seminar if I could volunteer my time and extern for the next seminar--I had no ideas how much of an impact this request would have on my future endeavors.
I set up a call with the Programs and Communications Manager, Mackenzie Kuhl, and soon I became the extern for the Women in Global Policy seminar, focusing on social media posts for PLEN's first-ever virtual seminar. This entailed using PR tools like Hootsuite to schedule exciting posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Being able to write primers and background materials for working on websites like Sched and Hootsuite, I was able to learn a lot of the work that happens behind the scenes of a week-long conference.
Now following a seminar more focused on international diplomacy within the public sector, I got to meet people from the State Department as well as tech and trade policy. This experience solidified what I learned from the STEM Policy seminar: engineers have a place in various aspects of policy, but more importantly, women have a place at the table.
Attending my final seminar as the Development Intern for PLEN, I worked on logistics, program development, and database organization under the Programs and Development Manager, Marwa Odeh. I have been able to improve my general soft skills--ones that are most prominent in professional development, and these were not basic additions to my toolbox but strong tips that I will use in my future endeavors.
Before PLEN, I didn’t know what an informational interview was, let alone how to execute one with grace and professionalism, nor had I ever used a database like Every Action. Sometimes STEM employees do not get to learn the language and communication skills a liberal arts employee does, and by fusing my STEM background with lessons from a job not based in an empty lab, I have gained tangible experience to prove I possess critical soft skills.
I particularly felt the impact of helping other women when I used my prior experiences with PLEN to engage more women of color for the seminars in order to increase an already diverse selection of panelists and speakers.
During the Women in Science and Health Innovation Seminar, I got to meet women from research and drug development, local and state government, and those tackling inequities– specifically for women of color in the modern day.
Receiving messages and emails from students who said the PLEN seminar inspired them to pursue avenues they didn’t know previously existed-- it meant everything to know that I helped bring that experience to fruition.
What "PLEN Taught Me" was a quote that stuck with me since my STEM Policy Seminar: “Go as far as you can see, then see how far you go” which to me means to push yourself to reach what you think is your potential then explore all the doors it opens from there.
I am grateful for PLEN for introducing me to so many opportunities and allowing me to grow so much with them. I’d like to thank the PLEN staff for being so welcoming and encouraging my initiative.
Aarushi Govil is an alumna of the Women in STEM Policy Seminar, externed for Women in Global Policy, and interned during the Women in Science and Health Innovation Seminar. She is a chemical engineering student at Rutgers University, and will graduate in May 2022. Her Instagram is @aarushi_govil and can be found on LinkedIn @aarushi-govil765.