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By Kristen Cole    Date: 12/16/11 Bookmark and Share

Women in Public Service Project Colloquium Sets Smith Students on the Path to Global Leadership

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a foyer at the State Department adorned with the flags of every nation in the world, nearly a hundred young women from leading U.S. women’s colleges jockeyed for a spot on a stairway. And waited.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) is flanked by Seven Sisters students before the Women in Public Service Project colloquium December 15. View video coverage of the event.

It was the morning of December 15, and they were invited guests of the inaugural Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) colloquium, launched by the State Department in collaboration with Smith, Mount Holyoke, Barnard, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley colleges, to build a generation of women leaders throughout the world.

Soon, the students would join alumnae, faculty and staff from the colleges, and a cohort of women in public service around the globe, in the Dean Acheson Auditorium to hear a rock-star lineup of global women leaders, including the president of Kosovo, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

A sudden hush in the crowded foyer indicated that something was about to happen.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered and strode to the front of the group. “I’m so excited you’re here,” she said to applause and flashing cameras.

After Clinton departed the room to prepare to present the colloquium’s keynote address, Smith government major Sarah Fitzgibbons said she couldn’t recall exactly what the secretary had said. “I was star struck.”

At the State Department Thursday, even government staff members seemed star struck by the historic event that was taking place in their midst and being live streamed around the globe to viewers attending “watch-parties” at a variety of locations, including embassies in Brazil, Canada and Kosovo.

“This is big. With 700 folks here it takes all hands on deck,” said Emily-Anne Patt, 28, a financial economist at the State Department, who shepherded a group of media to the auditorium. “In my office, everyone’s asking me, ‘Can you get me in? There isn’t any space.'”

And, it wasn’t just the number of guests that made the event “big.” Noted one national news cameraman who regularly covers events at the State Department, “This auditorium is packed with women…I’ve never seen it like this.”

“Look around you,” implored Farah Pandith ‘90, special representative to Muslim communities, welcoming the guests on behalf of the State Department. “You are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with representatives from every continent and age group.”

Throughout the program, speakers often directed their remarks to the college students in the audience. Time and again, they advised the young women to be unafraid to take risks, fail and take more risks; to mentor other women; and to take inspiration from the successes of other women. “We want all women in public service or aspiring to public service to know they are not alone,” said one.

The next work for the Women in Public Service Project steering committee includes planning a summer institute for up to 60 women in early- or mid-career, an event that is expected to become an annual affair hosted by each of the founding colleges on a revolving basis. Other, shorter-format training sessions and an online mentoring program are also being planned. Project leaders also hope to turn the initiative into a non-profit organization with a director who can spearhead those and other efforts.

“The work we do here today and in the coming months and years will ensure that [women’s] talents and passion to serve the public good are met with the educational resources and global networks to power their success,“ said President Carol Christ in her remarks on behalf of the founding colleges.

Eve Hunter ‘12, president of the Smith student government association, called the colloquium inspiring. “I hope to bring a lot of that energy back to Smith.”

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