The Congressional Fellowships on Women and Public Policy, sponsored by Women’s Policy, Inc., is a unique opportunity to gain first hand policymaking experience in Washington, DC. Fellows work from January to August in a congressional office. The fellowships are designed to train potential leaders in public policy formation to examine issues from the perspective, experiences, and needs of women. The program seeks articulate applicants who are pursuing a graduate degree or those who have recently completed a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree with a proven commitment to equity for women.
This fellowship is unique in that it is the only fellowship program on Capitol Hill directly by, for, and about women. To learn more, we interviewed current fellow Ashlyn Holeyfield of Arkansas.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Women’s Policy, Inc. Congressional Fellowship?
My first experience with politics was placing yard signs along an Arkansas dirt road when I was sixteen. That initial contact with a campaign led to my participation in politics on a local, state, and eventually national level as the College Democrat President of Arkansas. However, I was never able to intern a semester or a summer in DC.
After working a few years for General Wesley K. Clark (ret. USA), I decided I wanted to focus my passion for increasing women’s political participation into a graduate degree program. After I decided to attend graduate school at American University in Washington, DC, I set two goals: to work for a non-profit focused on women’s advocacy and work on Capitol Hill. During my first year in DC, I interned with the American Association of University Women’s Public Policy and Government Relations department, led by a former WREI (now WPI) fellow Lisa Maatz. She encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, which advocates for increased participation by women in policy formation at all levels of government.
I was drawn to the bipartisan fellowship because it provides an opportunity to network and receive advice from several generations of women connected with the fellowship. Networking opportunities are provided during the two-week orientation training as well as the weekly speaker series. The fellowship was also a way to apply to work in Congressional offices for which I had no previous connection and would not have even received an interview with no prior Hill experience. Women’s Policy, Inc. leveraged the fellowship program and their connections to facilitate interviews while preparing me for a position on the Hill. Part of the preparation included resources on how Congress works, a resume review, and advice about which office would best accomplish my overall goals.
From the fellowship, I hoped to gain an understanding of the legislative process from beginning to end. As one of our fellowship mentors stated, “Congress is about policy, procedure, and politics. To be successful you must be knowledgeable in all three.” Even with my Masters of Public Policy, there is no better substitute for learning the process than working within the institution. Currently, I serve as an Education Policy Fellow for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Minority Staff.
2. What are some of the benefits of the fellowship?
Benefits of the fellowship include a stipend towards living expenses, an additional sum for health insurance, and a tuition reimbursement. Additionally, the fellowship provided the opportunity to gain the equivalent of a Legislative Assistant position on a committee having no prior Hill experience. The opportunity to contribute substantive work while learning the process has been key. Next, the fellowship provides a built-in support network to not only navigate the Hill but also adjust to life in DC. Finally, as a fellow you join an incredible sisterhood of professional women with a long list of accomplishments and incredible stories who believe in helping future generations. The greatest benefit for me has been the personal and professional mentorship from former fellows, speakers, and the WPI staff.
3. What tips would you give others applying to the Women’s Policy, Inc. Congressional Fellowship?
On the application, be able to clearly convey how your previous experiences support your goal to work in DC. Women’s Policy, Inc. is looking for women who want to learn the legislative process without claiming to already be an expert. The fellowship is designed to develop a cadre of talented women experienced in public policymaking at the national level. Successful applicants are curious, open to asking questions, and understand that every person, from an intern to the Legislative Director, has valuable experiences to share.
Ashlyn Holeyfield works as a legislative fellow on the Committee for Education and the Workforce Minority staff. She currently is completing the final semester of her Master’s degree in Public Policy at American University. Originally from Arkansas, Ashlyn graduated with a BA in International Relations from Hendrix College in 2009.
© Victoria Johnson 2015, all rights reserved.