For this week’s Friday Feature, I had the chance to speak with Emerge Vermont alumna Stephanie Wobby. We discussed her background, her time serving in the U.S. Army, and how the Emerge program fit into that equation. As she wraps up her final semester at the University of Vermont, Stephanie looks towards the future for her town, her career, and her own goals for representing women in a time when the need for female leadership is most apparent.
Stephanie was born in the Philippines, immigrating to California at 10 years old. While she was in high school, she enlisted in the Army as a combat medic specialist through the delayed entry program and served from 2009 to 2015. During this time, she was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. She also deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
Harnessing her drive to help others, Stephanie pursued a biochemistry degree through Hawaii Pacific University after her term of service expired, hoping that it would move her closer to the goal of returning to the military as a doctor. After her husband left the Army in 2016, they decided to make the move from Hawaii to Vermont, her husband’s home state. In 2017, Stephanie became a student at the University of Vermont, still pursuing biochemistry. She soon realized, however, that her passions lay elsewhere, and in her third year of schooling she switched her major to English while keeping a minor in Biology. Stephanie is part of the class of 2020, and although she and her classmates face an unprecedented and disheartening end to their UVM careers, she maintains a positive attitude as she looks towards the future. On the day of our conversation, Stephanie accepted her offer to Columbia University’s MFA program. She will start in the fall of 2020 pursuing studies in creative nonfiction.
I asked Stephanie about how she got involved with Emerge and why she decided to do the six-month signature program. A college setting is the perfect canvas to explore your passions and get involved in ways you typically wouldn’t outside of university. For me, as a second year college student, I find that the abundance of clubs and groups on campus is the perfect excuse to get involved and active within that community. Stephanie felt the same way. She joined the Student Veterans Organization at UVM and saw many opportunities for change. It was in her role as the club’s president that she discovered her passion for advocacy. She wanted to pursue more leadership opportunities and to become more involved in her new community, so she reached out to our executive director Jill Krowinski, to discuss volunteer opportunities. When they met, Jill encouraged Stephanie to apply for the signature program, which was set to run from the fall of 2019 until early 2020.
Stephanie and I talked about the competitive nature of politics, and how she experienced the polar opposite during her training. The whole process—from submitting the application to participating in exercises during—can be intimidating and competitive. Contrastingly, Stephanie says that the women she met through the program were genuine, supportive, and kind. She met one of her closest friends through her Emerge class, and the network she’s built is with amazing women who she says she never would’ve crossed paths with otherwise. Emerge is unique in that it focuses on empowering and training Democratic women, and Stephanie says that its, “nice to have an organization be so invested in a specific group” so that being a part of that common cause is truly the main focus.
Throughout her training, Stephanie was faced with both exciting and nerve wracking challenges that are essential in politics; for example, she views public speaking as one of her greatest weaknesses. We both agreed that it’s something that comes naturally to a very small percentage of people, but she took on the challenge head-on and came out a stronger candidate because of it. She credits a lot of what got her through the public speaking training to her Emerge classmates and the experts that were brought in during training days. She said that everyone she encountered was rooting for her success, and that their support allowed her to find the confidence to improve upon that skill.
The skills she acquired translate into the roles she fulfills in her town. As the chair of the Milton Democratic Party and as a board member of the Milton Family Community Center, Stephanie’s involvement on a local level will surely catapult her success when it’s her time to run. She hopes to one day run to become a state representative in her town of Milton—or to support the next woman who’s willing to do so. But, because of her commitment to school and because she’s still new to the area, she plans on waiting until she’s established her roots in her new hometown. Until then, Stephanie will continue to enact change wherever she can and will continue to support women who challenge the status quo. I asked her, “How does the current global health crisis make the need for women leaders more apparent?” We lamented about the issue of ego and machismo as a roadblock when it comes to leaders seeing the effects of the pandemic. Empathy and humility allow for a more transparent and methodical response, and we see the proof in that with countries like New Zealand and Finland. Circling around this idea, Stephanie is adamant about supporting groups who need specialized assistance during this time and for people who do not qualify for certain benefits. She says that altering the mindset of what it means to be a successful leader is the first and most difficult step in giving women the platform to do just that.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.