Ready to Run™ alums share their paths into public service
By Phillip Jordan
Sonia Lopez was no stranger to political campaigns in 2014, when she first participated in Mount Saint Mary’s Ready to Run™ (R2R) campaign training — a national, nonpartisan program that prepares more women to run for office and get involved in policymaking. Mount Saint Mary’s is the Southern California provider of Ready to Run, with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. Passionate about higher education, Lopez had won a special election in 2013 as trustee on the Compton Community College District board. She has also served as a field representative for California Sen. Holly J. Mitchell since 2012.
But Lopez had never gone through a regular election cycle as a candidate. She attended R2R to hear speakers such as Compton Mayor Aja Brown, to network with other emerging leaders, and for fundraising and communications workshops. “For someone who doesn’t know the how-to, conferences like Ready to Run are important; for the experienced, the value is in the fine-tuning and the networking,” Lopez says. “It makes you think about common-sense things, as well as the nitty-gritty things.”
She returned to R2R in 2015, and again in 2016 when she listened to her boss, Sen. Mitchell, speak. That fall, Lopez was re-elected to a full term as trustee.
“No matter who you are, running for office can be scary,” Lopez says. “Hearing success stories from a diverse group of women can give you the inspiration you need. You can do this.”
Since 2013, R2R — presented by the University’s Center for the Advancement of Women — has brought together hundreds of emerging women leaders each year. And many of the program’s alumnae are already making waves.
Jessica Craven attended R2R 2017. Since then, she has gained appointment to the board of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles. She has also joined several social activism groups, plans to register voters in her district in 2018 and has started a “daily action” email newsletter for subscribers.
“I used to be a ‘volunteer-around-presidential-elections’ sort of person,” Craven says. “Now, I dedicate at least two hours every day to making the changes I want to see, with an emphasis on inspiring others to take action. In my own way, I’m making my mark on the political landscape and laying the groundwork for future runs.”
Meghan Mai ’19 also attended R2R 2017. A few months later, the Mount Saint Mary’s sociology major started a summer internship in the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, serving on the Homelessness Policy Team. At the end of the summer, Mayor Garcetti highlighted Mai's service, and passion for this issue, in a video created by the mayor's office. The video was used to encourage other Angelenos to learn how they can help address homelessness in the city, and serve those in need.
Going forward, Mai plans to attend grad school, work on housing issues and run for city council in her hometown of Burbank, Calif. Her ultimate goal: driving national policy in Congress. “Mount Saint Mary’s has offered me so many life-changing opportunities,” Mai says. “It’s here that I’ve discovered my deep interest in government and public policy. Through my summer work in the mayor’s office, I’m getting to see what it takes to effect change. All of this has only fueled my passion to run for office one day.”
Cheryl Turner attended R2R 2015 and 2017. An attorney with an extensive business background, she was already serving as commissioner and VP of the Los Angeles Convention and Exhibition Center Authority. But she was looking to make an impact at the state level, too. So, she attended R2R 2015 and listened to a session led by Mona Pasquil, appointments secretary for Gov. Jerry Brown.
One of the most powerful figures in state government, Pasquil recruits candidates and advises Gov. Brown on applicants for top cabinet positions and statewide boards and commissions. Two years later, Pasquil and Turner both returned for R2R 2017; when the two spoke, Pasquil discovered that Turner’s business expertise would be valuable to a state board with a vacancy. A month later, Gov. Brown appointed Turner to the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians.
Pasquil says that’s why R2R works: the combination of practical know-how and networking connections. “These events are really important because they demystify the process,” Pasquil says. “If you’re interested in an issue and you want to serve your community, your state or your country, you can. Step up! This event helps show you how.”
Other R2R attendees who have already used what they’ve learned as a springboard to enter public service include:
Naomi Miguel attended R2R 2016. A year after attending, she became the staff assistant and legislative correspondent for U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ). One day, she plans to run for office of her own. “The Ready to Run program exposed me to the initial steps of running a campaign, the importance of having a support system and key practices for running as a woman."
Working for Rep. Grijalva has taught Miguel that those professional and personal support systems are just as important post-campaign, too. She has also learned the significance of having knowledgeable and hard-working staff members supporting public officials. "My ability to gain these perspectives in politics and policy would not have been possible without the Ready to Run program," Miguel says.
Kylee Peña attended R2R 2017. A film industry professional, she has already been inspired to apply for statewide appointment to the California Film Commission. Peña has also earned election as president of Blue Collar Post Collective, a nonprofit that supports emerging talent in film and television post production. She has noted that her R2R training helped her connect how her “everyday” job expertise and perspective could translate to public service.
“Ready to Run was hugely inspirational for me,” Peña says. “I think a lot of women who want to shift into politics after another career might feel like they're starting over, but I was able to see that it's really a continuation of what I've been doing, with a broader reach. More specifically, before Ready to Run, I had no idea how appointments worked or how that could be a bridge. The program helped me go from ‘I think I can’ to ‘I know I can.’”
Michella Mousaed ’18 has attended every R2R since her freshman year at the Mount. “That first experience really inspired me to lay the groundwork now for public service,” she says, “to take advantage of every event like this and to take on leadership roles.”
Indeed, she has. Since her first R2R in 2015, Mousaed has taken a leadership course taught by Sen. Mitchell, a scholar-in-residence at the University; been elected a senator in the Mount’s Student Government Association; and served as an ambassador for a study abroad program in Spain.
Jackie Filla, PhD, an MSMU professor of history/political science and healthcare policy, has served as an R2R moderator and organizer for the past three years. She annually exhorts R2R attendees, and her own students, to create change head-on by entering public service, in order to change disparities such as these: Nationally, women make up 50 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, women comprise just 19 percent of the U.S. Congress. In California, women similarly account for only 22 percent of the state legislature.
“No amount of leaning in or marching will bring about the direct, substantive changes that put women on a path to equality like running for office and serving in government,” Filla says. “We know that when women run, they win at equal rates to men. Too often, though, women’s percentages in the legislature match their percentages on the ballots. So, changing these statistics are doable. We just need more women running.”
She’s leading by example. In 2016, Filla earned an appointment to the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women, where she now serves as the commission's vice president. She has spoken before the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women on the topic of women’s economic empowerment. And Filla has also led Mount Saint Mary’s students in a research methodology course that created real-world policy recommendations to the City of Los Angeles. One of the students’ proposals is now a local ordinance addressing human trafficking across the city.
Filla's efforts to advance others reflects a message that Mona Pasquil shared at R2R 2017 — one that illustrates why so many accomplished female politicians come to Mount Saint Mary’s each year to share their insights with new generations of aspiring leaders:
“Our real legacy,” Pasquil says, “is when we can help those who are coming after us and push them past us.”
Save the date: R2R 2018 will be held on April 28.