‘Women in Politics’ conference to bring state leaders to NSHS

‘Women in Politics’ conference to bring state leaders to NSHS

NORTH SMITHFIELD – She can. We can.

That’s the slogan guiding Megan Skinner’s senior project as she brings several state-level speakers to North Smithfield High School for a Women in Politics conference on Saturday, Feb. 29, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The project, inspired by her own interest in public policy, will offer students an up-close look at three women leaders in state government and academia, including how they started their political careers.

Featured speakers include Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, the first Latina elected to statewide office in New England; Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, state senator for district 23, covering parts of North Smithfield, Burrillville and Glocester; and Jo-Anne Hart, a Brown University professor with a background in foreign policy.

“I really wanted something that would be helpful for my career aspirations but also impactful for the community,” said Skinner, a senior at NSHS.

The conference is open to any students in grades 8 through 12, not just NSHS students. Attendance is free, but students are asked to register online in advance.

Following the speaking program, students will be invited to a networking lunch where they’ll have the opportunity to meet women professionals in law and government. They’ll also have a chance to register to vote. For this part of the conference, Skinner had help from her classmates Skylar Mette, who is pursuing a senior project about women in law, and Kristianna Lapierre, who is focusing on voter registration.

Skinner said the conference is open to both male and female students and is also open to educators who might draw inspiration for their social studies classes.

It’s also not limited to one political view. Her speakers span both sides of the political spectrum and have been active on issues from gun rights to open government to diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East.

“I really wanted it to be bipartisan because I have a lot of friends who have very divergent political opinions from each other,” she said.

Like many of her classmates, Skinner said her interest in politics began during her freshman year, when she participated in Natalie O’Brien’s We the People class. Since then, she’s volunteered at polling stations, participated in leadership conferences and attended talks by several state politicians, and her interest in the field has grown. Next year, she hopes to study public policy with an emphasis in foreign policy at a Washington, D.C.-area college.

“Hearing how complex their stories are, it really has given me insight into why people run for politics,” she said. “There’s so much negative stigma with politicians, especially with the current situation in national government, but all the people I’ve talked to are really passionate about what they do.”

Her passion isn’t always shared by her classmates. Skinner said she hopes the conference encourages more students to get involved in government rather than getting discouraged by the political scene.

“I just don’t think that’s the right attitude to have about it because it’s going to be there no matter what,” she said. “People should be more open to the idea of how to fix the problems that they see rather than brushing it off and ignoring it.”

The conference is free, but attendees and community members are welcome to make a donation to support the networking lunch. To register or donate, visit https://tinyurl.com/qlmfvwr .