Each year, several groups of William Smith students attend seminars sponsored by the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), a national organization that prepares college women for leadership roles in public policy and regularly brings them together at professional events held in Washington, D.C. In recent months, students had the opportunity to attend three different seminars, including the “Women’s Leadership in Public Policy” seminar, which took place in mid-January.
“Since 2010, more than 70 William Smith students, with a variety of academic interests, have attended PLEN seminars in Washington, D.C.,” says William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig HON’10. “These experiences have transformed their understanding of their academic experiences here on campus and opened doors to careers for them in Washington and beyond.”
PLEN regularly hosts the gatherings in order for collegiate women to establish and maintain connections in a variety of careers and industries. The PLEN seminars are centered on professional development specific to the topic covered at the individual event. William Smith students are able to attend thanks to support provided by the William Smith Dean’s Office.
It’s not unusual for students to consider PLEN an eye-opening experience. Kaenzig says that several William Smith students now work in public policy in Washington, D.C., and directly attribute their career success to “the power of the PLEN experience” for them.
Kelly Biggs ’11, for example, was one of the first William Smith students to attend PLEN back in 2010. After attending, she returned to campus determined to move to Washington, D.C. Now, she works for the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and serves on PLEN’s national board of directors.
The most recent PLEN seminar, “Women’s Leadership in Public Policy,” explored current policy issues and the range of career opportunities in the policy world. Mary Kubinski ’17, Alex Lamonte ’17 and Kelly Mauch ’17 attended the seminar.
Also held in January was the “Science and Health Policy,” seminar, which gave students the opportunity to hear from women scientists, health experts and medical researchers who are shaping the nation’s health agenda. Emma Anderson’ 16, Rose Cherubin ’15 and Jessica Lathrop ’18 attended the seminar during the Colleges’ winter break.
For Anderson, the seminar allowed her to think more broadly about her career options post-graduation.
“This conference is very valuable and I gained new information each day,” Anderson says. “The women I met were remarkable and insightful. I came home with much to contemplate about the direction I will take after graduation.”
The seminar held in November was the “Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy.” Sophia Alphas ’17, Elizabeth Bramley ’15, Elizabeth Chirco ’17 and Emma Richardson ’17 took part in the seminar, which gave them the opportunity to explore a variety of legal professions such as issue-based advocacy and government service while connecting them to the legislative process in Washington, D.C. The students also visited the United States Supreme Court, where they heard from women who work in legal public policy in D.C.
By attending the event, the women were able to expand their professional networks and skills, consider the benefits of a law degree, and hear from speakers in entry- and mid-level legal careers.
“It was really inspiring to meet so many dedicated women who were committed to making a change in our country in their careers,” Richardson says. “It gave me an idea of how I wanted to start thinking about what I will contribute to once I graduate from William Smith.”
Bramley says PLEN changed the trajectory of her intended career path.
“Having women with life experience to provide myself and other PLEN attendees with sincere advice about their own mistakes, failures, and successes was truly invaluable,” she says.
PLEN also allowed the women to participate in workshops for their resumes, explore job and internships on The Hill, and develop interviewing and leadership skills. The women featured at the seminar demonstrated the work-life balance of women in policy.
“PLEN was a valuable experience for me because it helped me narrow down my focus and provided me with the right steps to get there,” Alphas says. “It was helpful in the way that it opened my eyes about the real life responsibilities of being a woman and working in D.C.”
William Smith College is a member institution of PLEN. Women attend each year to represent the College. Kaenzig is the vice chair of the PLEN Board of Directors and also a longtime member of the organization who has been a driving force in advancing the connection between William Smith and PLEN.
The top photo features: Elizabeth Chirco 17, Sophia Alphas ’17, Emma Richardson ’17 and Elizabeth Bramley ’15. The second photo features students participating in the Public Leadership Education Network “Women and Policy in the Global Community” seminar in front of the U.S. State Department. The group met with representatives from the Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations, Bureau of Public Affairs, and Bureau of Consular Affairs.