The Summer Institute

logoAlthough late, I thought I’d share my experience as a Bryn Mawr College student at one day (Day 2) of the two week long Women in Public Service Summer Institute.

I arrived at Bryn Mawr’s campus in the morning, just in time to catch a panel on “Alternative Approaches to Women’s Leadership in Transitional Settings.”

The panelists included Moushira Khattab, former Ambassador of Egypt to Italy and South Africa & Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs, Lilia Labidi, Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University Singapore, and Fatima Sbaity-Kassem, former Director, UN-ESCWA Centre for Women from the Middle East/North Africa. The panel was moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Much of what the panelists said centered on changing consciousness as a way to garner change in transitional communities. They also offered that the best was to do this is through local leaders, specifically the religious leaders in these setting. The effectiveness of this method is exemplified by female genital mutilation, which is far less prevalent today than a mere decade ago. (There’s a great article in The New York Times today about fgm and the power of insiders, which can be found here.)

About halfway through the panel, Jane Harman, a former U.S. Representative, president and CEO of the Wilson Center, and a graduate of sister college, Smith, entered the room and offered encouragement to the delegates in attendance.

The delegates had a limited amount of time at the end for questions and comments, but one that really resonated with me was one delegate’s commenting on the west’s implementation of gender quotas, like the 25% quota in Iraq, without having these numbers of women in their own governments.

For more about this panel you can look to my or the UI’s twitter feed.

In the afternoon, I ventured to Thomas Great Hall to see Hillary Clinton’s Keynote Address. photoShe was introduced by Ms. Harman, who spoke about the importance of the convergence of government (The State Department) with academia. She also noted how fitting it was that the Wilson Center and the Women and Public Service Project’s Summer Institute was held that summer on Bryn Mawr’s campus, where President Woodrow Wilson began his academic career.

When Hillary took to the stage there were feelings of hysteria from my friends and I. She spoke about the importance of women’s rights and political parity, something she has continued to champion in her time as FLOTUS, a United States Senator, Secretary of State, and something I know she will continue to champion in her time as the first female President. (Only partially kidding.)

For more on Hillary Clinton’s speech, look to my recent Huffington Post article.

As the day drew to a close, those in attendance at Secretary Clinton’s address enjoyed cocktails and horderves in Bryn Mawr’s historic cloisters. I was surrounded by incredible women such as Farah Pandith, the inspiring Women in Public Service delegates, friends who share my passion for public service, as well as some professors who continually support and encourage me to follow my dreams, the one where I’m holding public office in particular.

I wish I could have been able to make more of the institute, but so cherish the one day I was able to spend at Bryn Mawr’s Women in Public Service Project.

Alice Rivlin Interview

In preparation for the Women in Public Service Project Institute being held at Bryn Mawr College this summer, I’ve been reaching out to Bryn Mawr alumnae in public service, especially those involved in the project. Below is an interview I conducted with Alice Rivlin for The Undergraduate Initiative:

Alice Rivlin, Bryn Mawr College class of 1952, is an economist who has served as the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the first Director of the Congressional Budget Office and is a confirmed speaker for the Women in Public Service Project Institute to be held at Bryn Mawr College July 7-19.

Questions for Alice Rivlin:

Why did you decide to pursue a career in public service?

I think I always wanted to do some kind of public service. I wasn’t very clear about what that meant, but I grew up in the era right after World War II, I was Bryn Mawr class of ‘52 so not long after the war, and we were pretty idealistic. I was very interested in peace and international relations and at the time I was thinking about careers where I would be doing something international. I majored in economics at Bryn Mawr College and that seemed to be a logical step in doing something in public service. I went to Europe [upon gradation] and worked in the US government agency that was winding up the Marshall plan. After, I decided to go to graduate school still thinking internationally but by the time I got into economics at the graduate level I became more focused on domestic things.

Do you feel that your education at Bryn Mawr College influenced your professional choices?

Oh I think so, but I think I had something of that mindset before coming to Bryn Mawr. The thing that was important was my majoring in economics. I originally started out thinking I wanted to major in history, but then that didn’t seem very practical and then I switched to economics.

What barriers have you faced as a women with a high level career in public service?

Well, that’s a long story in part because I started so long ago. At the time I was beginning my career there were serious barriers that your generation has a hard time focusing on. There were a lot of jobs not open to women and even going to graduate school was something most women didn’t do. Now Bryn Mawr was something of an exception, but professorships at major universities were not open to women, and even when I was at Harvard as a graduate student there was one library not open to women…It’s hard to imagine that you could run a university that way but it wasn’t illegal in those days, it was before the civil rights act and any of the things that came along with it making discrimination illegal.

How did you deal with these barriers?

My generation was just before the protest generation of the 60’s… and in the 50’s we were much more lady like. We just did it. If there were barriers for women getting a PhD, we just went ahead and got it. If one job wasn’t open for women we went for one that was. We were largely very persistent.

Did you have any role models or mentors? If so, who were they and how did they inspire you?

I did and at different stages. My second boss, Joe Pechman, was a very distinguished economist and public policy economist.  When I first got my PhD and came to the Brookings Institution in the late 50’s he certainly both influenced me and mentored me. He had two [biological] daughters and I was kind of his third daughter. Although I wasn’t the only woman he mentored; he was very committed to helping young women economists get started.

Do you feel that gender differences affect policy? Can you think of a time when being a woman affected a decision you made?

Gender differences, race differences, and income differences, all of those things play a role in public policy. But I don’t think I made different decisions because I was a women and I sort of consciously stayed away from women’s issues. I didn’t work on women’s rights or pay equality or any of those things particularly. I wanted to be a general-purpose economist.

I understand you have three children. How did you balance your career with your family life? Is there really such a thing as work/life balance for women? If it’s something worth working towards, how do you recommend one does it?

I have three children, now middle aged, and four grandchildren. I think the work life balance is something that everyone struggles with, not just women, but I do think it’s harder for women. The good news is that men are beginning to get conscious of their family responsibilities and worry about those balances as well. And I think that’s a good thing because it’s not just a women’s issue. I was extraordinarily lucky because I had three smart and healthy children who did well in school… I didn’t have a particularly difficult situation and I had enough money to hire someone to help me take care of the kids. But it is hard to balance a career and family life. And I don’t think its gotten much easier: My daughter has children, now two of them college age and one younger, and I don’t think its been any easier for her… it’s a challenge.

What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career in public service?

Go for it! It is really an exciting place to be. There’s so much you can do in public service that’s both intellectually interesting and challenging and makes the world a better place. And I think it’s a good career for women or for anyone. I’ve had an enormously interesting and exciting career over a long period and I would do it again and encourage anyone else to do it.

What made you want to be involved in the Women in Public Service Project?

I’ve been a woman in public service and I like that the project brings together women from around the world. It also may cater to my original interest in international things.

What are you most looking forward to about the Institute?

Getting to know other women in public service from other places.

In your opinion, how can we achieve 50% representation by the year 2050?

More qualified women have got to spend time in public service jobs but if we’re talking about representation in legislative bodies I don’t know what the answer is. We’re a long way from 50% representation in the United States Congress, it’s going to take more women wanting to do it. It’s a hard life being in congress and it brings the work life issues to the floor. So it’s not terribly surprising that we haven’t gotten to 50/50, but state legislatures are getting there, for example New Hampshire and Vermont have very high percentages of women in the legislature.

The Initiative

Bryn Mawr is gearing up for the Women in Public Service Project Institute this summer, and I can’t wait!

Prominent speakers already confirmed include Alice Rivlin ’52, founding director of the Congressional Budget Office; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, and Angela Kane ’70, high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations.

Moreover, Bryn Mawr College President Jane McAuliffe offers advice to women interested in pursuing a career in public service:

Members of the Undergraduate Initiative have been blogging, and we’ll begin posting videos concerning members of the club and interviews with faculty!

And be sure to check out my most recent post about Quotas for Women in Politics.

Why Bryn Mawr?

WBMC?Congratulations to everyone accepted to Bryn Mawr’s class of 2017. I’m sure you are all thinking tirelessly about this momentous decision, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a pro and con list was involved. I’d like to give you a few more things for your pro Bryn Mawr column, although to be completely honest, my decision happened to come down to a coin toss.

Why a women’s college?

While I hadn’t originally been looking for a women’s college, I ended up applying to most of the Seven Sisters schools. At a time when women are so underrepresented in many occupational fields, I liked that women’s colleges devote all of their resources to women.

This is a topic I explored in my Junior Seminar class last semester, and a post I have written for the Bryn Mawr College Undergraduate Initiative blog.

In short, women’s colleges have been linked to achievement, satisfaction with experience, satisfaction with institution, self-esteem and leadership opportunities. In the environments facilitated by women’s colleges, women participate fully in all kinds of leadership activities, women see women in leadership roles, and choices of whether or not to participate are not mediated by gender.

Moreover, Secretary Hillary Clinton says that her all-women’s education, at sister school Wellesley, guaranteed a focus on academic achievement and extracurricular leadership that she might have missed at a co-educational college.

This was great for me, especially considering I hope to one day work in politics.

Why Bryn Mawr College?

Ironically, Bryn Mawr was the college I had spent the least amount of time touring. I visited one afternoon with my mom, walked around campus and ate lunch at Uncommon Grounds Café. But I immediately fell in love with the picturesque campus, and I couldn’t help but use the college as a comparison to the other schools I was visiting.

I also loved the location. It is in a small, beautiful town, the town of Bryn Mawr, but 20 minutes away from a thriving city, Philadelphia. And it’s only 2 hours away from New York City, and 2.5 hours away from Washington, D.C.

Bryn Mawr College is truly a spectacular place and I’ve met the most incredible people here. College is a drastic change, no matter where you go, but Bryn Mawr does a great job of helping in this life changing transition. Ultimately, Bryn Mawr has made me into the women I always wanted to be, but never thought I could be. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful.

Welcome to the Future of Women in Public Service

logoLaunched in December 2012, the Women in Public Service Undergraduate Initiative at Bryn Mawr College seeks to encourage Bryn Mawr College students to pursue careers in public service.

Our site is officially launched, and I hope you’ll keep up with the blog as we have some amazing women writing for the club. Below is my first blog post, it’s somewhat of an introduction to initiative:

I distinctly remember the day I saw Secretary Clinton announce the launch of the Women in Public Service Project. It was my freshman year at Bryn Mawr College and I was home in Louisiana for Winter Break. It was evening and I was scrolling through Facebook when it appeared on my newsfeed; an upperclassman from Bryn Mawr had posted the link.

In the video, Secretary Clinton talked about the project’s goal; global political and civil leadership of at least 50 percent women by 2050, by building the infrastructure and convening the conversations necessary to achieve this vision. Watching the video, I was overjoyed. At that moment, I realized I had made the right decision in choosing to attend Bryn Mawr, a women’s college.

In learning more about the project, I was initially saddened that as a current undergraduate, I didn’t think I would have much involvement in the project. Talking on the phone to my friend and classmate, Maya, we decided we wanted to change that. And so we started an undergraduate club at Bryn Mawr, which was finally launched last semester

The goal of our initiative is to foster relationships among current Bryn Mawr students interested in pursuing careers in public service. During this semester, and for years to come, we hope to attract guest speakers established in their respective fields, foster dialogue among our student body, network with Bryn Mawr and other Seven Sisters graduates, and aid our members in their search for internships, externships and jobs.

Madeleine Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Most simply, we want to create a space for Bryn Mawr women to help other women.

Since its founding, our club has had the privilege of becoming involved in the national institute being held at Bryn Mawr college this summer. We will talk with delegates and speakers attending the institute, and be sure to blog about these experiences.

The bloggers on this site are all members of our initiative, students at Bryn Mawr, and young women pursuing careers in public service. This semester, many of their posts will have a global component in preparation for this summer. They will bring personal experiences to their writing, as well as material from classes they’ve taken as students at Bryn Mawr College.

We welcome your involvement. Please contact us through this web site or by email: