Marija Tesla graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 where she studied English and Russian Language and Literature. Her senior year she wrote a creative writing honors thesis focusing on the stories of women and children during the 1990s war in Croatia. She graduated with high honors, Phi Beta Kappa. While at Mount Holyoke College, Tesla served the community as president of the Student Government Association her senior year and is currently serving her alma mater as the Young Alumna Trustee. Among many, she cares greatly about issues of war and peace, national security, nuclear proliferation, and the inclusion of women in peace building processes. She currently works at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as the Program Coordinator and Faculty Assistant for the Center for International Development and Master in Public Administration in International Development. Tesla speaks Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Russian, and has basic knowledge of Czech. She attended the inaugural WPSP events in December as well as the opening of the institute at Wellesley College. In the future, Tesla hopes to serve her country by joining the U.S. Foreign Service. Her blog will follow the events she attends, projects she is working on, and current affairs as they relate to her interests and WPSP.
What do you think are the greatest unmet needs for women leaders that WPSP can address?
Without a doubt, supporting and encouraging young women who are interested in careers in public service. WPSP needs to work on supporting women in public service to help bridge the gap that exists not only in terms of the number of women who currently occupy positions of power and leadership, but the number of women of diverse backgrounds who have a public presence that is vital to the shaping of not only public discourse for my generation, but also that of the next generation of women and girls. WPSP needs to address how women can combat the intricate ways sexism and all the “isms” manifest themselves in the workplace and in society at large because not all women face the same challenges in the public sphere. My generation needs women of diverse backgrounds to not only carry out the daily duties of their jobs, but to speak up! One of the many reasons that I chose to attend Mount Holyoke College was because it was and is my belief that I need to “go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do,” the basis on which Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke. We need WPSP to support women who are making a difference in the many arenas that compose public service, and we need WPSP to exist so that it can continue to encourage all of us to be audacious and willing to go to combat for issues we care about. The Seven Sisters have been pioneers in addressing issues of diversity. Not all women have had equal opportunities in the history of the United States, the Seven Sisters, and in the world, and I think that WPSP should address this to create a world in which every girl at a young age feels represented and recognized because that is where it all starts.
What are your hopes for the WPSP institutes, and how do you think they can best serve emerging and established women in public service?
From the training and skills the institutes will provide, at their core, they will also provide all of the delegates with a sense of sisterhood and create a space in which women come first, which seldom happens in society. In many ways, the institutes give the delegates a glimpse of what I experienced as a student at Mount Holyoke. WPSP institutes give women the ability to not only affirm themselves, but to create a space which will allow other women who follow them to do the same. When I attended the inaugural institute opening at Wellesley in June, I got the sense that many of the delegates who attended the institute will continue to engage in conversation about the various issues they face in their own countries, regions, not to mention the types of obstacles they handle on a daily basis as women in positions of leadership. WPSP is about the sharing of information and not about the instilling of ideas. The WPSP institutes, if nothing else, will serve as a reminder that there are other women out there who are also fighting and putting their lives on the line (as there are still many women around the globe who face such adversities) to make this world a better place. With the many challenges we face in the world every day, that is an important reminder.
How have women helped you, and how has having a mentor (and/or being a mentor) benefited your work?
I stand on the shoulders of strong women, without whom I would not have the opportunities I have today. Mentorship has been an integral part of my life. It has never been about finding a formal mentor and being a formal mentor to someone else, instead, it has been about building and cultivating meaningful relationships with people who inspire me, provoke me, make me think, and teach me something. To me, mentorship is a reciprocal act from which every person learns, and it is the basis of all meaningful human interaction. My mentors are the people who took the time to hear my story, to talk to me, and to help me because somehow they believed in what I was doing at the time, and possibly, what I would do in the future. Naturally, in life I do the same for those individuals who I come to know and in whom I believe. Many of my Mount Holyoke friends have been some of my best mentors, as have other Seven Sisters graduates. The essence of mentorship is believing that if we pay close attention to this world’s most intricate subtleties we discover incredible wisdom in the most unexpected of places.
The annual WPSP Institute will be held at each of the partnering Sisters’ campuses on a rotating basis. As a graduate of a Seven Sisters college, how do you think the work and legacy of the Sisters contribute to the vision for WPSP?
The legacy that the Seven Sisters embody is always at the forefront of educational excellence, progressive thinking, and liberal learning as it contributes to creative and critical thinking which is essential to the building of a world that has the ability to ask the right questions and reflect on itself and its history. Mount Holyoke “empowers women with the knowledge, insight, and self-confidence to serve and to lead,” and this is exactly what I believe the annual WPSP Institute does for its delegates. The Seven Sisters have played a critical role in the development of the United States and other nations around the globe through the incredible women these institutions have graduated since the founding of Mount Holyoke in 1837, the oldest of the Seven Sisters. It is my belief that only this historic legacy in which women have always come first can produce something as extraordinary, necessary, and critical as the Women in Public Service Project, which was created and envisioned by Secretary Hillary Clinton, a Wellesley woman and thus a Seven Sisters graduate. Secretary Clinton embodies the spirit and courage at the very core of the Seven Sisters institutions—the spirit that ignited and was the basis and catalyst for the WPSP Institute at Wellesley College and all of those to come. My hope is that through the WPSP, woman will continue to work together on creating a world that we are all proud to call our home.