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Andrea Sierra '17 (second from right) says another benefit of the PLEN seminar in Washington, D.C., was interacting with emerging women leaders from colleges across the country.

‘What glass ceiling?’ Exploring public policy in D.C.

This summer, six Mount Saint Mary’s University students traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to explore careers in international public policy – and to learn directly from women whose work makes a global impact.

The Mount’s students earned their invitations to this annual seminar, led by the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN). “Women & Policy in the Global Community” enabled 60 student leaders from across the country to hear from high-ranking officials on issues such as global security, health policy, anti-human trafficking efforts, foreign policy and global business affairs.

Phylizia Carrillo ’17 says it was not lost on the participants that they were engaging with an all-star, all-female cast of lawmakers, agency directors, human rights lawyers, executives and foreign policy makers. The message?

“Basically, what glass ceiling?” Carrillo says. “PLEN showed us examples of opportunities and experiences available in the nation’s capital, and challenged us to create, or chase, opportunities and experiences of our own.”

During the seminar, participants had the chance to visit a wide range of government agencies, nonprofits and policy centers that were of interest to them – from the U.S. Department of State to Human Rights Watch.

Andrea Sierra ‘17, for instance, visited the Peace Corps national office and the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “During those site visits, I was able to ask questions about what the programs do, and also learn how I could become more actively involved,” she says. “I not only gained more knowledge about the organizations, but it also helped me to really find my calling.”

PLEN is the only national organization with the sole focus of preparing college women for leadership in the public policy arena, offering students valuable access to women leaders in Washington, D.C. The Mount is connected to PLEN through the University’s own Women’s Leadership program, which has been shaping future leaders at Mount Saint Mary’s for 40 years.

During this summer’s “Women & Policy in the Global Community,” Mount Saint Mary’s students also learned how to negotiate salaries, build a professional network and create a work-life balance.

“We were honored to be surrounded by a large group of intelligent, outspoken and charismatic women from universities all over the country, and of all walks of life,” Carrillo says. “It’s one thing to aspire to be the change you want to see in the world. It’s another thing to do it with other like-minded and good-hearted individuals.”

The six Athenians selected to participate in the May 18-22 national seminar included leadership scholars Carrillo and Sierra, as well as Susy Contreras ’15, Joanna Martin ’15, Elizabeth Siruno ’17 and Rachel Yeo ’16.

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