By Sarah Scopio
Her senior year, Jessica Lopez ’16 walked into a Mount Saint Mary’s Ready To Run® networking reception and walked out holding the business card of the woman who would open the doors to L.A. city government for her.
She says she owes it all to the Mount’s partnership with PLEN.
“It changed the course of my career,” Lopez said. It was at a PLEN networking session where she learned the secret to getting a great job — it’s who you know. “Because of that reception, I got an internship with Monica Rodriguez, who was then the vice president of the Department of Public Works for the City of Los Angeles. At every meeting, Monica would introduce me and say, ‘This is my intern Jessica. She’s graduating and looking for a job.’ Within a month, the Bureau of Contract Administration had hired me as a consultant.”
Lopez spent two years working in the City of Los Angeles and is now a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Fellow for 2018-2019 in Washington, D.C.
PLEN is the Public Leadership Education Network, the only organization in the nation dedicated to preparing college women for leadership in the public policy arena. This year, PLEN celebrates its 40th anniversary. Mount Saint Mary’s University is a longtime partner of the organization, and has been has been sending women to seminars in Washington, D.C., for over 30 years.
“PLEN is such a great fit for the Mount because our missions are so similar,” says Rosalyn Kempf, assistant vice president for student affairs and women’s leadership, and a member of PLEN’s board of directors. “Our mission is to prepare women for lives of leadership and service. Every seminar they offer complements a Mount education.”
Each year Women’s Leadership awards scholarships to at least 10 women to attend PLEN seminars on topics including Women, Law and Legal Advocacy; Women in Health Policy; Women in Stem Policy; and Women in Global Policy. At the seminars, students hear from women inside the industry and attend skill-building sessions on networking and resume writing.
“PLEN’s mission is to get more women into all aspects of public policy leadership affecting every part of the policy process,” says Sarah Bruno, PLEN executive director.
Lopez is not the only Mount PLEN alum who now works in public policy at the local and federal level. There’s Alejandra Ceja ’96, the former executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics under President Obama; Lizbeth Alvarez ’13, a legislative fellow in U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’ office; and Phylizia Carrillo ’17, program manager with the LA County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC).
“Attending PLEN completely altered my career path,” says Carrillo, who majored in political science and global politics. “I attended the Women in Global Policy seminar as a sophomore interested in foreign service. At PLEN, I realized that a lot of global policy is done on the local level.”
Carrillo returned from the seminar and spent the next two years interning at the LA Mayor’s Office, the LAEDC, the Calif. State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The PLEN experts encouraged me to gain experience at every level of policy and decision making,” says Carrillo. “Policy isn’t one person’s idea of progress. It is a network of processes that fail most of the time, and when they do succeed, they are championed by dozens of people gunning for the same thing.”
“Now in my job as a program manager at LAEDC, I oversee programming, partnerships and policies for transportation, aerospace, defense and digital media,” she says. “It is very slow and tedious, but we want policy to be designed so that everyone moves forward.”
Current Mount students can also attest to how life-changing PLEN seminars can be.
“PLEN motivated me to be more than a lawyer by exposing me to different careers in law and public policy,” says Dana Blakney ’20, a political science and business major who attended the Women, Law and Legal Advocacy seminar in October. “I was inspired by our speakers, including Shelby Emmett, director of the Center to Protect Free Speech.”
“We heard from women on Capital Hill, at the State Department and at the World Bank,” says Gabriela Ballesteros ’19, a global politics and healthcare policy major who attended the Global Policy Seminar in 2017. “It opened up my mind to different ways I can affect policy.”
For all of these women, attending PLEN connects deeply with their values, values cultivated at the Mount.
“At PLEN I thought a lot about our founders, the CSJs, and how they modeled a life of service,” says Ballesteros. “I learned how I can take these values and bring about change for my community. For me, it’s through policy making. As I walked through the halls of the Capital, I knew that one day I would be back.”