Lisa Kaenzig


Seminar: Women in Public Policy (1989); Women and Congress (1991, 1992); Immediate Past Chair of PLEN Board of Directors
Occupation: Dean, William Smith College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Education: PhD, Educational Policy and Administration, William & Mary; MA, Human Resource Development/Management, George Washington University; BA, Political Science, Rutgers University (PLEN Member)

As a political science major, Lisa Kaenzig knew that she wanted to work in politics in Washington, DC. As a women’s studies minor, she also knew that she wanted to work with women leaders. The reasonable crossover? Running a woman’s political campaign. The first logical step for an ambitious student interested in women in politics was to attend a PLEN seminar.

Lisa actually first heard about PLEN during the recruitment process at Rutgers; she remembers PLEN’s programs specifically piquing her interest in Rutgers. Ultimately, Lisa chose to attend Douglass College at Rutgers University in large part due to the opportunity to attend a PLEN seminar.

Throughout her time at Rutgers University, Lisa attended three PLEN seminars: Women and Congress twice, and Women in Public Policy once. As one of the first members of PLEN, Douglass College has had a very active PLEN chapter. Lisa specifically remembers the charismatic leadership of Cassandra O’Neill, who was the PLEN Coordinator during Lisa’s time on Rutgers’ campus.

Leadership and mentorship played a huge role in Lisa’s professional development during college. Looking back, she names two specific women who made a lasting impression on her: Marianne Alexander and Judy Schneider. Both fierce advocates for women, Lisa felt prepared and supported from all that she learned from Marianne and Judy. Lisa immediately felt connected to Marianne, the first Executive Director of PLEN. She was and continues to be an important mentor, role model, and supporter for Lisa and many women who have attended a PLEN seminar. Judy had a different effect on Lisa; didn’t mess around. She has taught years of PLEN cohorts about the inner-workings of Washington, DC, and she demanded a lot from all of the students. “I remember thinking,” Lisa recalls, “that she’s really serious, and I always need to be well prepared.” Thankfully, Judy also taught Lisa and her peers how to fake it ‘til you make it- when you need to be prepared, but may not feel prepared.

Back at Douglass, Lisa continued to connect with women leaders. Through the PLEN chapter at Rutgers, she was introduced to the Center of American Women in Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. The Director of CAWP, at that time, was Ruth Mandel, who was very connected to women’s groups in Washington, sat on multiple boards, and brought many women legislators and policy leaders to speak to students on campus. Through these speaker series, she was able to meet Mary Landrieu, who was at that time running for state treasurer of Louisiana. Similarly, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the then Mayor of Princeton, NJ, had a major influence on Lisa. Both Mary and Barbara enjoyed multiple meals with the students and both reiterated the importance of having women mentors.

In addition to meeting women working in politics, the PLEN chapter on campus offered Lisa numerous leadership and professional development opportunities. Students from all different departments attended PLEN seminars, and they came together to encourage younger women to attend seminars as well. Lisa remembers sitting in the room, being in awe of the juniors and seniors who had been to PLEN. “That is where I really learned about the importance of women supporting other women,” Lisa says.

During her seminars and through the PLEN chapter on campus, Lisa learned that anyone- even she- could be a mentor. “I was struck by the inter-generationality of it all,” she says about her seminar. “Women just a year or two out of school were coming to speak to us, along with women at all stages of professional life, up to those who had retired.” Seeing women of all ages in once place, sharing their stories, ignited Lisa’s mentorship potential. Soon after her seminars, she set up an orientation program for students who were heading to PLEN seminars or internships in DC to help prepare them for their new professional experience.

Now, as the Dean of William Smith College, Lisa is in a position to inspire, empower, and support women leaders every day. And she brings a wealth of experience with her. After graduating from Rutgers University, Lisa received her Masters of Human Resource Development from George Washington University and her PhD in Educational Policy and Leadership from the College of William and Mary. She has worked on campaigns, in nonprofits, in education, and served for four years on the PLEN Board of Directors. At William Smith, Lisa is not only the Dean, but is also the PLEN Member Representative and has encouraged countless young women to attend a PLEN seminar. On campus, she has established a robust campus chapter and pre-seminar orientation program, just like the one that helped her develop her leadership skills when she was in their shoes.

Reinforcing the messages she heard at PLEN to her student leaders is a priority. Also important is making sure young women are exposed to a wide variety of leaders. Not only are women role models important, but women role models with different perspectives and backgrounds show that even women who don’t agree on some issues can work productively together.  “The nonpartisan part of PLEN is more important than ever,” says Lisa. “Young people need to hear from people with different political perspectives. They’re more insulated now because of social media, and PLEN forces them to hear from everybody.”

As she continues to work with students, she sees PLEN’s mission still extremely relevant today. Unfortunately, nothing has really changed in terms of women’s leadership. Yes, there are more women elected into office now than when she attended PLEN seminars, there is still a lot of work to be done. However, Lisa will continue to be on the front lines, inspiring and supporting women leaders to succeed.

In May 2017, during her time as Chair of the PLEN Board of Directors, Lisa Kaenzig was named Dean of William Smith College. As a three-time alumna of PLEN programs, she has grown the PLEN chapter on the William Smith campus and has sent over 130 students to PLEN programs. In addition to her continuous support of PLEN, she is an integral part of the William Smith campus and Geneva community, dedicating her time to advising, mentoring, and supporting students throughout their college careers. Read more about her story here.


By Dawn Culpepper • 2018

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