The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Audrey Henson, Founder of College to Congress, a DC-based nonprofit working to create a more inclusive and effective Congress by empowering the next generation of public servants. College to Congress is disrupting the pipeline of who becomes congressional staff by helping students from rural, low-income, and disadvantaged backgrounds secure full-time internships in Congress and covering the true cost of an unpaid internship. Henson grew up in Texas, but is a Floridian at heart. She is a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, an Aspen Institute Socrates Fellow, and she currently lives with her beloved Beagle, Cooper.
Audrey is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in leadership and public service.
We caught up with Audrey to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
From a very early age, I knew I wanted to work in Congress. I have always had a passion to be in public service, I just didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. During my senior year at the University of South Florida, my dreams came true when I landed a congressional internship, only to find out that it was unpaid. That summer, I took out my first student loan so I could afford to move to DC and work for free. I believe that no one should have to go into debt to serve their country. That’s when the idea of College to Congress was first born.
Who inspired you to get involved?
In all honesty, my personal story was my inspiration. I founded College to Congress based on my own journey struggling to make my dream come true and serving a greater role in society. There are 7 million Pell Grant recipients across our nation. If any of them wanted to get involved in public service, they would face the same challenges that I faced. I wanted to provide opportunities for other students, just like me.
How do you define a leader?
I believe a leader is someone who brings out the best in others and helps them to realize their full potential. The best leaders hire smart people and get out of their way. I have surrounded myself with a strong team of bright, driven individuals, who I delegate responsibilities to and trust to make smart decisions for the benefit of the organization.
What projects are you currently involved in?
We are expanding our impact dramatically in 2020. Without giving too much away, later this year, we are unveiling our new tech platform. We are building an online training portal, which we will use to serve students from around the country by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful on Capitol Hill.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
I would encourage students to follow us on social media and go to collegetocongress.org to sign up for our newsletter. There they will find updates on our program, receive early access to our online portal, and learn tips on how to get involved in public service.