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Discovering your path: Lessons from D.C.

Two Katies collide in D.C.: U.S. Representative Betty McCollum ‘76 and Olivia Kopecky ‘16.
Two Katies collide in D.C.: U.S. Representative Betty McCollum ‘76 and Olivia Kopecky ‘16.
Photo courtesy Olivia Kopecky ‘16

From January 11 to 16, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) seminar on “Women and Public Policy.” I was able to attend it because of a generous scholarship provided by the Center for Women at St. Catherine University.

This seminar covered all the bases. Entire sessions and panels were dedicated to topics such as being an advocate, personal branding and salary negotiation. We learned how to build our professional networks, with tips on initial icebreaker conversations and elevator speeches.

Going into the conference, I really had no idea what my next steps were after I graduate May 2016. I know my strengths, skills and history, but I do not know where I truly want to go and do next. This conference helped me dump these fears and truly know myself. The majority of people in public policy have winding paths that led them to where they are today. A first job out of college is just a starting point and does not predict where you will be in 20 years.

The re-occurring advice to students and theme at this seminar was to be flexible, and try new experiences with an open mind. Volunteering is a great step into arenas that make a big impact, I learned. Put yourself out there, I heard.

In the middle of the week, I scheduled meetings with two United States senators’ offices and one U.S. representative. These were relatively short meetings, but an inspirational part of the experience. I was able to sit down with legislative assistants who represented the respected elected officials and discuss issues that are important to me. They listened to my concerns, engaged in conversation and offered me helpful advice with regards to my career.

The most valuable part of this week was networking with students and professionals from around the D.C. area. I met and learned from women who ran political campaigns, advocate for energy and environmental policy, head nonprofit organizations and work among the different branches of government. They all had great advice and were willing to answer all questions, from work-life balance to advice on getting involved.

Now back in Minnesota, I look forward to engaging in informational interviews with people around the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. I have these lists of ideas, organizations and passions that all seem interesting on my desk. But after attending the PLEN seminar, I was able to add more ideas to the lists, and also cross some ideas off.

Every experience is an opportunity to learn. I dove into something I was partially interested in and came out fully passionate about public policy, government, campaigns and advocacy.

I know where I can go now. Nothing stands in my way.

Editor’s Note: This story was edited and condensed for clarity. Olivia Kopecky ’16, a communication studies major, wrote it after attending the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) Women and Public Policy seminar in Washington, D.C.

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Feb. 19, 2016 by Olivia Kopecky ’16

See also: Alumnae/i, Leadership, Liberal Arts, Students