My Empowering Experience at the STEM Policy SeminaR

The PLEN STEM policy seminar was one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had during my four years of college. Before attending the seminar, I received sufficient support on how to prepare and get the most out of my experience, especially from Jessica Estes, the career coach at Augustana and Shelby Olson, Principal of CareerLife Directions. The seminar itself was compounded with valuable advice from diverse and powerful women leaders and an opportunity to network with colleagues, panelists, and PLEN staff both during and after the seminar. I left the program feeling informed on building a career around STEM policy or public policy, navigating the professional world, and feeling confident in my potential to achieve my goals.

When I got an email from Jessica encouraging me to apply to the seminar, I was immediately interested. I was first interested in the Global Policy seminar but Jessica and I realized that the STEM policy seminar is a suitable option given my passion for policy analysis and social scientific research. I am glad that I applied to the STEM policy seminar because my expectations were exceeded. I am also grateful that financial constraints were not an issue because I was able to receive PLEN full scholarship and financial support from Augustana college.

I am a senior and a sociology and psychology double major. Though my program is part of the social sciences, I chose to attend the PLEN policy seminar due to my interest in computational social science. Learning about the experience of the panelists helped me to understand that the process of achieving your goals is flexible. It is not necessarily a social ladder but a jungle gym where people shift, adapt, step down or go up in order to satisfy the needs of what they aspire to achieve or to reach the top.

Great women leaders talked about their experiences and some of the key things I learned from them is that they preserve, practice self-development, and in situations where their abilities were questioned by others, they confidently show otherwise. I learned from panelist member Rylee Wernoch that as women, we should refrain from doubting our capabilities and questioning our deservingness of being in higher positions and going for opportunities. Senior Director of US Government Affairs, Anjelica Dortch’s advice about utilizing mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching really sticks to me. I learned from her and many of the speakers that it does not hurt to ask for help and there are so many people who are willing to empower women. A clear example is PLEN and all of the speakers who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to us. We had an entire section dedicated to learning how to network and we even attended the PLEN award ceremony where I had the opportunity to practice networking.

The PLEN seminar was interactive, informative, and empowering. I saw myself in many of the people around me. I connected with curious and passionate young women. I sat under the wisdom of women who have defeated the status quo and taken up roles in male-dominated positions. They were also women of color exemplifying that it is possible regardless of race. These women’s passion, experiences, achievements, and advice helped me see a world of possibilities.

Etta Brooks is a Senior at Augustana College majoring in Sociology and Psychology who attended the 2022 STEM Policy Seminar.

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