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Serving as an elected official can feel a bit like a rugby match at times, but getting elected in the first place can be a totally different ball game altogether, and it’s one game that few women are playing. According to the National Foundation for Women Legislators, women currently hold just 89 of the 535 seats in the United States Congress. The Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) is working to increase that number.
WAPPP is home to a non-partisan initiative that arms women with the knowledge and tools to run for elected office. “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office: A Political Campaign Practicum,” recently welcomed its newest class, or “cohort,” of 50 women for the 2011-12 academic year.
The Oval Office program is designed to teach students to run for office through hands-on training, by growing their professional and personal networks, and connecting them with women leaders who have shattered the glass ceiling in the public sector.
"We need more women in office for two reasons, first to effectively legislate and govern in a way that meets the needs of women and secondly we must fully utilize the talent of all our citizenry in order to effectively meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century," said Victoria A. Budson, WAPPP executive director and founder and chair of the Oval Office Program.
Molly Huazhen MPP 2013 hopes the program will serve as a launching pad for her career.
“I hope through the program I will be able to gain critical skills to rise in the public sector,” Hauzhen says. “I also hope to build a network with our amazing alumni and cohort-mates.”
The program has already experienced success. Several graduates of the program have gone on to win elections, including Lori Ehrlich MC/MPA 2005, who is currently serving her third term as a Massachusetts state representative.
“In my rear view mirror, I appreciate it all the more. Women make great role models and as they blaze trails in politics they illuminate the path for others. The work is hard, hours are long and the results are not always apparent. This program serves as a toolkit – a reservoir of camaraderie,” said Ehrlich.
The new crop of participants has already had an opportunity to listen to Ehrlich and others speak and share their experiences.
“Their personal stories are very inspiring,” said Huazhen. “A speaker shared how rewarding her government career is despite all the challenges she had met. It is this sense of fulfillment that clicks with me as well.”
Past speakers at Oval Office program events include U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 8th), Congresswoman Anne Northup (R-KY 3rd), and former Governor Christie Todd Whitman (R-NJ).
Participating students may apply for financial support for a summer internship, giving them the chance to utilize acquired skills in a real-world political setting.
The Oval Office program application process is open to all Harvard graduate students, including international students. Upon completion of the programmatic components of the initiative, students are encouraged to remain active in the Oval Office network. Ultimately, the program’s goal is to fill the political pipeline with women, striving towards equal representation in government.
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Lori Ehrlich MC/MPA 2005, is currently serving her third term as a Massachusetts state representative.
Photo Credit: Martha Stewart
"Women make great role models and as they blaze trails in politics they illuminate the path for others," said Ehrlich.
“From Harvard Square to the Oval Office: A Political Campaign Practicum,” recently welcomed its newest class.