My name is Julie Victain. I’m a junior at Chatham University majoring in Professional Communications with a double concentration in Journalism and Public Relations and a minor in Political Science. The National Education for Women’s (NEW) Leadership program was something that interested me because I am a young registered voter, and I felt that by attending I would gain some essential knowledge about some of the big issues going on: Marcellus Shale drilling, marriage equality, etc.
My week at the NEW Leadership was very beneficial for my personal political knowledge because I was able to understand and respect others’ viewpoints on issues that we may not have seen eye to eye on. Many participants noted that the program was successful because of the respect shown. We weren’t afraid to have the unpopular opinion on certain issues because we knew that it was a safe space and that we would be respected.
The week was structured in such a way that participants could enjoy learning about politics in an interactive, relaxed setting. The discussion for the week was focused on how we, as women, can emerge into political leadership roles and become involved in our government.
Participants came from 17 universities all over the state to join the discussion. Not all of the women had a political science major or minor, but they still had a chance to explore their areas of study in-depth. For example, education majors were in their element when we spoke about being active on local school boards. It was interesting to meet students from different universities and to understand their viewpoints.
The program was helpful to me as an emerging leader because we listened to first-hand advice from women who are already established in the political field. Bringing in influential speakers such as the prominent philanthropist and Republican figure Elsie Hillman, 5-term Washington County Commissioner and candidate for State Treasurer Diana Irey-Vaughan, and Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner really helped me understand some of the hardships women in political settings have to endure.
My favorite part of the week was a road trip to Harrisburg. We were led on a tour of the capital after meeting many of the senators and others that were in town for the budget meetings. Since I had never been to Harrisburg, it was really influential to see the building where prominent Pennsylvania political figures meet to talk about our future. We met many of the people that represent our local areas and got to voice our opinions and hear theirs.
A networking dinner was held in the Mellon Board Room with women who fulfill leadership positions. Many of the guests were either previously or currently in government positions. A number of Chatham’s women leaders also attended. The dinner helped me to learn networking skills and unintentionally tested my proper dining etiquette. The dinner made me a little nervous since I had to get up in front of the dinner guests and publically introduce Cindy Shapira, Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Women in Pittsburgh and Executive Vice President of Pappas Consulting group. I learned by presenting Ms. Shapira that public speaking isn’t a hard job when you speak slowly and you become relaxed.
As well as being Practitioner-in-Residence for the week, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky was a networking focus for all attendees. She spoke throughout the week with each of us, and told many of her personal stories from being in Congress as well as being a mom to eleven children. She was truly inspirational to me because I do aspire to work at CNN, which she has done. She was willing to give me tips and tricks to help me get into CNN when I graduate.
The week I spent at the NEW Leadership program is one I will not soon forget. Many friends were made throughout the very busy week. I personally learned a lot about how hard it can be for women, as opposed to men, to break into a leadership role.
Learn more about the NEW Leadership Pennsylvania summer institute here.
Photo: Julie Victain (far right) with other emerging leaders at the NEW Leadership Pennsylvania summer institute