A young woman with long, dirty-blonde hair wearing a sleek navy dress stood before a diverse group of college women. She presented from a PowerPoint projected onto the wall behind her regarding tips on running a successful political campaign. A slight farmer’s tan was evident from the pink sunburns that extended down her arms from the middle of her biceps.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Jessica Gottsleben, a 2015 UCF graduate, regarding how so many young girls are affected by the lack of female politicians to look to as role models. “You can be your own role model. You can say, ‘I look like a politician exactly like I am.’”
On Wednesday, March 2, in the Cape Florida ballroom of the Student Union, the fourth annual UCF Elect Her workshop was held. The speakers were all accomplished women whose goals were to guide college women on success in the political field.
Gottsleben was invited to be a featured speaker at the event. Luckily, she happened to be in town for the week because her plans to fly to Washington, D.C., for a congressional meeting were rescheduled.
Her comments were in reference to a campaign that she is promoting called #ILookLikeAPolitician. The campaign, sponsored by the women’s advocacy and empowerment organization Running Start, encourages young women to hashtag their posts and take pride in the fact that they don’t have to look or act any certain way to succeed in politics.
Gottsleben was recognized for her work with #ILookLikeAPolitician at the 10th Annual Young Women to Watch awards in Washington, D.C., on March 15.
Her speech, given at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in front of one of her personal idols, Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, was enough to get her elected as Running Start’s first ambassador.
“I can’t say thank you enough. Being elected the inaugural ambassador and receiving the political Rising Star Award has not truly sunk in yet,” said Gottsleben regarding her win. “This opportunity filled my heart with joy, and I cannot wait for another year of even more empowerment and positive social change.”
A Burnett Honors College graduate, Gottsleben left UCF with dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and broadcast journalism. During her time in college, Jessica was one of only four women to ever run for SGA president.
She was chosen as the UCF Elect Her program representative for the 2013 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders and as an Elect Her student panelist in 2014 — both of which helped pave the way for her subsequent work in bringing women to politics.
Making silly faces at her parents from the stage throughout her graduation ceremony, she had the honor of sitting onstage next to President John C. Hitt as one of 20 students inducted into Order of Pegasus, UCF’s most prestigious honor.
Stacey Malaret, director of LEAD Scholars, described how Jessica initially only attended the first Elect Her event in 2013 to fulfill a workshop requirement.
“Jessica really shows what it looks like to take advantage of all the opportunities that UCF has to offer,” Malaret said.
Since before her graduation, Gottsleben maintained a fellowship in the nation’s capital. She was one of seven women out of more than 150 applicants to be selected to receive a Star Fellowship through Running Start. The Star Fellowship program paid for her to live in D.C., attend congressional hearings, intern for a congresswoman and attend educational seminars taught by political experts.
“It’s the coolest thing ever to be surrounded by people who want to do good for the world,” Gottsleben said of Running Start.
The organization’s main focus is on providing young women with the physical means and motivation to get politically involved or even run for office. Near the end of her time as a Star Fellow, Jessica was selected to receive another fellowship — this one with a focus on constitutional law.
She finished her Star Fellowship around the same time as the start of her Congressional Fellowship, running from meetings to seminars to coffee dates with some of D.C.’s elite, all while still technically living in Orlando.
“I promise I sleep,” Gottsleben said. “I just have to be very strategic in planning it out.”
Denise Crisafi, program coordinator for the Burnett Honors College, described Jessica as “always being driven to do good.”
“She never had a selfish endeavor,” Crisafi said. “Her peers really looked up to her because of that.”
When asked where Jessica sees herself in a few years, she said she simply hopes to be doing good for other people and raising issues that need to be raised.
“Oh, and I want to be the Princess Leia of politics,” she said. “Leia is a capable leader and refused to be quiet, even after having her home planet destroyed, accidentally kissing her brother and so many other things. She’s awesome and I aspire to lead like she does.”
Anna Johnson is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.