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Preparing Women to Lead Conference

As part of the Athena Scholars Program, I was offered the opportunity to attend a Preparing Women to Lead (PLEN) conference for Women in Public Policy in Washington, D.C. at the end of winter break from January 9th to 13th. PLEN was my first conference as a college student, my first time in D.C., and my first time learning about our nation’s education policy from women leaders.

Over the course of the five days I spent at the conference, I gained a better understanding of politics and policy, as well as made amazing connections with successful women from the Independent Women’s forum, the Partnership for Public Service, and the National Immigration Forum, to name a few. In addition to becoming friends with the two other Barnard students also in attendance, I made friends with other young women from different colleges around the country who are interested in the equitable education and women’s issues. I highly recommend that other Athena Scholars take advantage of the opportunity to apply to PLEN’s conferences held over the course of the next year.

My favorite part of the conference, however, was meeting with Jon Cardinal, the financial director for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Thanks to PLEN, I was able to talk to him about issues in education and women’s issues. I told him about my experiences tutoring in schools in East Harlem and how scarce their resources are for the students who need them the most; some of these schools didn’t have soap in the bathrooms, much less enough textbooks for their students. Mr. Cardinal assured me that Senator Gillibrand knows about these issues and fixing the education system in New York is one of her priorities.

Another pivotal part of the conference was the panel on immigration policy in America. Several immigration lawyers and other women in the nonprofit sector of immigration talked about their jobs and the current challenges that they are facing with regard to seemingly ever-changing immigration issues under debate in several parts of the government. They talked about their desire to make the immigration system work better in the country, and are pushing efforts to make concrete changes that will benefit immigrants, as well as the U.S. Not surprisingly, the issue of DACA and the Dreamers became central to the discussion. While I have taken classes in both sociology and education that included extensive readings on immigration, the panel truly opened my eyes to the reality of what immigrants face when they are at the border or are being deported.

As a result of the Athena Scholars Program and the PLEN conference, I had the incredible opportunity to meet brilliant, creative, and strong women, all of whom have had incredibly different educational and career paths. Many of these women found their dream jobs unexpectedly, which reminded me that I do not need to know exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. PLEN was an amazing opportunity to network and to meet women leaders in D.C. as a way to think about one’s one path from summer internships to beyond. As I plan my own professional future, I realize that having women as my mentors to guide and support me is one of the most critical aspects of my experience. I love being a student at Barnard and in the Athena Scholars Program, and I highly recommend any Athena Scholar to take advantage of the opportunity to to apply to PLEN’s conferences held over the course of the next year. I am eager to take all of the opportunities that come my way, and to take everything I have learned from this conference and put it to use in the rest of my time at Barnard and after graduation.


Gabriela Martin is a Sophomore at Barnard College of Columbia University. She is majoring in Sociology and is very interested in Education Policy. She currently interns at a jewelry company called Roxanne Assoulin.