“The experience has made me feel more confident ... by teaching me what I need to go forward and reaffirming that I made the right choice."
Catherine Priebe ’20 was set on getting a master’s in social work after graduating from Augustana. Then she attended the PLEN–Preparing Women to Lead seminar on Women in Health Policy in Washington, D.C.
For three days, five Augustana students including Priebe joined students from Swarthmore, Smith, Tulane, Penn State and Yale to meet and learn from female leaders making and influencing public policy at the highest levels in Congress, the courts, the private sector, policy research and advocacy organizations, and the media.
“I got to go to the maternal and child health policy session in the Capitol Building,” Priebe said. “Being able to learn and discuss important issues in that space was electric and a dream of mine.
“Another highlight was attending a session where I learned how to negotiate a salary. As women, we often do not learn how to negotiate a salary, and those skills are a tangible way to narrow the wage gap.”
As a result of attending the PLEN (Public Leadership Education Network) seminar, Priebe plans to go to law school and focus on health policy and women’s health as her career, instead of social work.
Her experience reflects PLEN’s mission for the past 40 years. By introducing college women to role models, career paths and skills trainings before they enter the workforce, PLEN aims to increase the number of women in public policy leadership.
This is the first year Augustana has sent students to a PLEN seminar, and as often is the case, the opportunity originated with an Augustana graduate.
Shelby Olson ’79—senior consultant, executive and career coach with Right Management—is on PLEN’s board. She also is a member of Augustana’s new President’s Advisory Council. At a meeting last spring, she spoke with Laura Kestner-Ricketts, director of Augustana’s CORE career development office, and the wheels were set in motion.
Olson paid for Augustana’s institution membership with PLEN. Five female students were selected to attend the health policy seminar and received scholarships from CORE for career-related professional development to pay for their expenses.
“It was so delightful to meet the Augustana women,” Olson said. “This was a fantastic opportunity for them to begin building and nurturing a professional network that will help them in their careers going forward. I am proud to say that they represented Augustana very well.”
Joining Priebe at the seminar were Ivana Jureta ’19, Krishna Marme ’20, Josephine Prempeh ’22 and Caroline Wator ’20.
Wator knew she wanted to work in health care policy before attending the seminar, but “the opportunity to hear from and speak to so many women of all ages, working in the public and private sectors of health care was really valuable to me. I was able to get a better grip on what I want to do long term, but also short term, as I am applying to internships now.
“The experience has made me feel more confident...by teaching me what I need to go forward and reaffirming that I made the right choice,” Wator said.
For Prempeh, the highlight of the seminar was breaking into small groups and speaking with leaders of Save the Children Network, a nonprofit that provides early childhood education and pediatric care for infants in impoverished areas.
"I learned about the ins and outs of working in a nonprofit organization," Prempeh said. "This session was extremely helpful and insightful, for I plan to open a clinic in Ghana, West Africa, that focuses on the maternal health care of women. PLEN allowed me to realize that as a woman, it's possible for me to achieve such huge dreams."
The Augustana students also enjoyed meeting other women from top schools around the country with life aspirations and career questions similar to their own.
“For many students being a part of PLEN may seem like a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, but really we hope it’s just the first step in a lifetime journey of leadership and public service,” said Kestner-Ricketts.
Future PLEN seminars that Augustana will attend:
Women in Public Policy (Jan. 7-11, 2019)
Women in STEM Policy (Jan. 14-18, 2019)
Women and Congress (March 18-22, 2019)
Women in Global Policy (May 20-24, 2019)