Kiahna’s PLEN experience: Your Word is Your Bond

Coming to the PLEN seminar, I was uncertain about my expectations and what the virtual experience would be like. I had some background on the organization but in terms of what the day-to-day of what an online seminar would entail, I was very much in the dark. I have spent a good portion of both my graduate experience and some working experience in ‘COVID-times’ but I had yet to participate in any professional development during the pandemic. I was interested to understand more about working in the public policy sector, specifically the capitol hill environment. I was also curious to see just how diverse PLEN was going to make its panels. As a woman of color, whose degrees have prepared me for white and male dominated fields (political science and international security) I was interested to see how PLEN and its dedication to women’s leadership was going to tackle the issue of intersectionality in its choices of speakers, participants, and moderators. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of speakers, diversity in all of the attendees, PLEN Staff, speakers, and moderators. My experience at PLEN was exciting, educational, and provided opportunities to receive valuable advice passed down from established women in this complex and competitive field.

One of the most surprising and rewarding experiences I had at the public policy seminar was an unexpected one. The ‘LinkedIn’ presentation led by Jacquelyne Howard. This presentation was something I thought could be more like a review for me, as someone who has been an active LinkedIn member for years. I had used it to secure multiple internship opportunities and get a plethora of interviews. What I did not know was the value of information placement, how to create sections discussing work experiences in more detail, and possibly most valuable experience I had in the presentation was Jacquelyne’s the use of an excellent young black professional’s page to help guide us in the right direction for our formatting. I was so impressed with the young woman's profile that I immediately went to improve my profile with my new-found tools and tricks after the section concluded. Jacquelyne helped us understand with visual guides how to best utilize the options and features of LinkedIn as a career aid. I was impressed with Jacquelyne’s understanding of different teaching modalities (both auditory and visual learners could engage productively in this presentation). 

The panel I enjoyed the most by far was the Capitol Hill Panel, for a couple reasons. First, the speakers were fantastic at sharing their raw experiences and struggles on the hill. Transparency can be difficult as so many of us are more accustomed to summarizing our experiences with our successes at the forefront, so hearing about the process of securing these successes was honest, realistic, and affirming. The speakers, Kayla Primes, Sarah Arkin, Adeola Adesin, and moderator Bassima Alghussein, were engaged, honest, and provided realistic advice to young women entering the field. Second, I think one of the best pieces of advice we received was to ask for exactly what we wanted. Women are conditioned in many ways to practice bashfulness or maintain a docile nature, and all of these speakers agreed that there is no room for that in DC, especially on the Hill. It was especially refreshing to hear from young black women that tropes like ‘aggressive vs. assertive’ were obviously still there, but that their self-promotion and assured composure when asking for opportunities were met with respect and even admiration from people currently working on the Hill. Many times, these experiences of ‘taking what you want’ come from women in which this is less looked down upon, namely, white women. So as a biracial woman who has been told throughout my life that I was ‘too much’ hearing affirming stories from other WOC in this field who were unapologetically going after their wants, needs, and career aspirations was inspiring.

The last experience or rather words of advice I was given came from both a mentor and friend who was speaking at PLEN, Denise Wilson. As someone who has worked on the hill for a number of years, for a presidential administration, and for private organizations in the public policy realm, her breadth of experience is almost unparalleled. She is a huge reason I have learned to believe in myself, and further, learned to feel okay advocating for myself. Her advice was what I chose to title my blog post as I believe it encapsulated the spirit of the experience; “your word is your bond.” This advice was given to us while we discussed writing and both verbal and written communication as two invaluable skills needed to succeed in the public policy realm. Denise emphasized for us the importance of ‘our word’ or our written voice as a skill and asset in this field, and that it could carry us throughout our career if we honed our writing abilities as well as our presentation abilities. She said our word is our bond to our work, our careers, and to our peers, and that we should invest in ensuring that our word can reflect our thoughts, expertise, and opinions successfully.

The PLEN Public Policy seminar was a wonderful experience, one that I am grateful was still made possible virtually by the PLEN staff. The pandemic has compromised a lot of opportunities for those of us in early career stages like career events and development opportunities, especially for those of us who are immunocompromised. So, I was very grateful that I got to attend safely during an uncertain time. 

Kiahna Stephens attended the 2022 Public Policy seminar. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with her B.A. in Political Science in 2019, and from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies with her M.A. in International Security in 2021.

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