Lisa Kaenzig, associate dean of William Smith College, was recently nominated and named Chair of the Board of Directors of the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), the only national organization with the sole focus of preparing college women for leadership in the public policy arena.
“My entire career, since my own undergraduate days, has been about creating networks of support for women and helping them fulfill their potential,” says Kaenzig, who has been connected with PLEN for more than 25 years, first as an undergraduate attending PLEN seminars, and later as a regular speaker when she worked in Washington, D.C.
“PLEN is all women,” she adds, “only women-identified students, board members and speakers. It is quite unique and special.”
Each year, PLEN brings hundreds of women students from colleges and universities across the country to Washington, D.C., to experience firsthand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level. With such experience, these students are better prepared to become the next generation of public policy decision makers. Through introducing college women to role models, career paths, and skills trainings before they enter the workforce, PLEN’s mission is to increase the number of women in top leadership positions influencing all aspects of the public policy process.
The nonpartisan, non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., which counts William Smith College among its institutional members, recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, added a new seminar (“Women and Business Policy”) to its regular roster, and has received several important grants in recent months. Amidst this flurry of news, Kaenzig, who assumed her role on July 1, says she is “excited to lead PLEN at this exciting time.”
Kaenzig has more than 25 years of administrative and academic experience, including several years working in politics in Washington, D.C., helping organizations like the bi-partisan Women’s Campaign Fund elect women to office and later serving as the Executive Director of the Women’s Information Network, “an organization that helps connect women with others who literally ‘open doors for them’ to their political careers in D.C.,” Kaenzig says.
“And, of course, my own work for the past 12-plus years as a dean of young women at William Smith has been the joy of my professional life,” she adds. “PLEN has always been a part of this work, for more than 25 years, since it is all about helping women access careers that make a difference, especially in public policy, whether in science, education, politics or health care.”
Kaenzig earned her Ph.D. in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership from the College of William and Mary; M.A. in Human Resource Development from the George Washington University; and B.A. from Rutgers University.
In 1994, she helped found the PLEN Mentoring Awards, which in March of 2016 will next recognize women in Washington, D.C. who are important speakers and mentors to the organization and its participants. Recent speakers at PLEN seminars include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (a frequent PLEN speaker) and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (the youngest Republican member of Congress), among hundreds of others.
William Smith was invited to join as a member institution of PLEN in 2011, and in the past five years has sent more than 90 students to PLEN seminars, including more than 25 in the 2014-2015 academic year, who, Kaenzig says, “return to campus completely transformed by their experience.”
“The connection with PLEN is critical for William Smith students,” she continues. “We have seen a significant increase in William Smith students getting positions in D.C. since we started sending students to PLEN seminars, and their networks in D.C. are even stronger with the additional PLEN affiliation. And, being in the consortium with the other PLEN member colleges including Barnard, Smith, St. Lawrence University and Mount Holyoke (among several others) is very helpful at both the institutional level and the student level.”
In her role overseeing PLEN as the chair of the board of directors, Kaenzig presides at all board meetings, directly supervises the PLEN office staff, and serves on the finance and university/curriculum committees of the board and as the primary representative for PLEN at the board level.
In November, the board — whose members include women leaders from a variety of sectors across the United States — will gather on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus for their fall meeting.
“I am so excited to share my love of PLEN nationally and to bring the PLEN board members here to William Smith for our fall board meeting,” Kaenzig says. “I am eager for them to meet our students here and the faculty and administrators who are all so supportive of PLEN, its mission and our students — and to ‘show off’ our amazing PLEN chapter here at the Colleges.”
While the meeting itself will be closed, the board will have sessions for invited members of the Colleges’ community, including a dinner on Friday, Nov. 13. A reception will be held with William Smith students who have attended PLEN seminars, along with students in the Laurel Society involved in the Leadership League of Women (LLOW) collaboration with Geneva High School (as well as the 15 program leaders from GHS), on Saturday, Nov. 14, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The LLOW program was founded by William Smith senior Virginia DeWees ’16 who was inspired to start a collaboration with young woman leaders at Geneva High School after her own experience attending a PLEN seminar.
The photo above features William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig at this year’s welcome dinner with first-year students.