It was 9 am on a warm and humid Sunday when I headed to the airport and boarded on a flight to Washington, D.C. to attend PLEN’s Women and Congress Seminar. In contrast to the warm weather back home, the nation’s capital greeted me upon arrival with a blanket of snow and gusty, frigid winds. Regardless of the weather, I was eager to attend the seminar because it would be the ideal opportunity to expand on my interests in public policy and leadership. I had originally heard about PLEN from an email that my school sent to encourage me to apply for the upcoming Women and Congress Seminar. Applying to the program certainly paid off as it offered me a week packed with inspirational speeches from political figures and female leaders, professional skills building and a one-on-one conversation with a staff member of my state senator’s congressional office. During this meeting, I advocated the issue of student loan debt and asked my senator to either introduce or sponsor a bill that will minimize interest rates on student loans and reduce state university tuition costs in the long run.
I was very grateful to PLEN for setting environmental policy on the agenda of the seminar. Often times, environmental law is pushed towards the back of the political agenda and under the current administration, has been pushed even further back. As an aspiring professional in the nonprofit environmental sector, listening to the experience of female leaders working in Washington for the environment was just what I needed to hear. The stories they shared about outreach to communities around the United States and the impact their work has had on environmental policy has inspired me more than ever to strive for my goals and to make a difference in my community. These panelists have taught me that all change begins on a local level; with this in mind, I realized that all of my local service and community endeavors are having a larger impact than I expected.
A snowstorm in the week’s forecast did not stop us from meeting on Capitol Hill to visit the place where the majority of our country’s laws are proposed, debated and voted on: the Capitol building. Inside one of D.C.’s most iconic buildings, we listened to the stories of women who started off their careers as aspiring female leaders in college by searching for internships and networking opportunities. As I am going through these experiences now, seeing and hearing about the success of these women who came from humble beginnings has boosted my confidence as a female leader. If there’s one thing that has stuck with me more than anything since the PLEN seminar, it’s that women can do absolutely anything. We cannot allow our confidence to wane, especially when it comes to competing and working with men. When we come together and build each other up, we are more than a force to be reckoned with. We are leaders. We are change makers. Let us show the world what we are made of.
Luiza Kinzerska-Martinez attended the 2017 Women in Congress seminar as a junior at the University of Miami, where she majors in international studies.