About PLEN

PLEN’s mission is to empower, educate, and engage women and marginalized gender groups in public policy to promote diverse, inclusive leadership in policy making.

The Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) is the only national organization [nonpartisan 501(c)(3)] with the sole focus of preparing college women and marginalized gender groups for leadership in the public policy arena.

PLEN's Core Values

Integrity: We believe that our community is stronger when every person is committed to being responsible for their honest, truthful, and sincere actions.

Respect: We believe that all people should be treated with dignity and that everyone and their ideas deserve to be respected. Our community thrives on the appreciation we have for ourselves and each other. 

Open-mindednessWe believe that our community is willing to listen to ideas and opinions of others and willing to change their own perspective if needed. We are committed to open-mindedness, without compromising on our responsibility to respect people from all backgrounds and communities.

Diversity, Equity, & InclusionWe believe that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, class, religion, creed, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We aspire to be consciously inclusive in our engagement with the community to model our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do. 

PLEN's Guiding Princples

Leadership:  PLEN fosters accountable, credible, and respectful leaders who are prepared to lead others with integrity, honor, and openness. We instill a commitment to personal trust, truth, and transparency.

Mentorship: PLEN provides thoughtful guidance, networking advice and meaningful introductions so our students are prepared for careers in public policy.

Advocacy: At PLEN we help students learn how to advocate for themselves as young professionals, and advocate for others after becoming public policy leaders.

Empowerment: PLEN elevates our students to believe in themselves and their aspirations, providing professional, technical, emotional, and financial advice as they navigate both career and life choices.

PLEN's History

Our Founder: Frances “Sissy” Farenthold

Frances “Sissy” Farenthold was a Texas state legislator, women’s college president, human rights activist and the founding president of the National Women’s Political Caucus that worked to elect women to public office.  An alumna of Vassar College and the University of Texas-Austin School of Law, Sissy served in the Texas legislature from 1968 and ran for governor in 1972. Though she lost the gubernatorial race, Sissy gained national recognition, and as a result, was encouraged to run for the Democratic Vice-Presidential nomination — the first woman to do so. In 1976, Sissy became the president of Wells College and continued to advocate for women’s leadership in the public sphere, led efforts to form PLEN in 1978.

Sissy’s vision for PLEN was based on her strong conviction that higher education institutions have a special responsibility to prepare women for leadership in the public arena as it had prepared previous generations of male leaders. She convinced the Carnegie Corporation of New York to make a significant grant that created PLEN in 1978. Sissy continued to support PLEN after leaving Wells College and continued her work in the public sector as an international human rights activist.

According to PLEN’s first executive director, Marianne Alexander, Sissy closely followed PLEN’s development over the years as it grew into a national nonpartisan organization serving greater numbers of students each year.  On several public occasions she expressed pride in PLEN as one of her most important legacies. Sissy passed on September 26, 2021, and today, we continue to advance Sissy’s vision for PLEN.

We have grown significantly since Sissy started the organization in 1978. Over 43 years, PLEN has trained more than 5,000 students from 300 colleges and universities in 46 states and connected them with leaders and speakers working in Washington, D.C. and beyond. These students experience first-hand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level as they prepare to become the next generation of public policy decision makers.

PLEN Programming

Each year, PLEN engages over 275+ students from colleges and universities across the country with leaders and speakers working in Washington, D.C. and beyond to:

  • experience first-hand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level
  • prepare to become the next generation of public policy decision makers

Students meet with and learn from leaders making and influencing public policy at the highest levels in:

  • Congress
  • Court and Judicial Systems
  • Federal Agencies
  • The private sector
  • Policy research and advocacy organizations
  • Media

These leaders serve as teachers as well as mentors. Students and schools report this experience as invaluable to the development of students.

Extend the Power of PLEN

Other sources of PLEN support are generated by program fees and contributions by individuals, foundations and corporations. PLEN depends on the generosity of donors to keep its programs affordable for students.