Our Unlikely Team Got a Young Woman Elected

By Leela Menon

Growing up, my family always told me I could be anything I wanted to be: “Though she be but little,” they would say, “she is fierce.” (That quote continues to inspire me.) From this encouragement, I immediately set my mind on saving the world (even if I didn’t know what I’d be saving it from).

After many rounds of trial and error, I found myself studying Environmental & Ecological Engineering because I wanted to save the world from the people living on it. I’m studying at Purdue University, a school full of amazing, passionate young people who are all trying to make their mark on the world.

Which is perfect, because I’ve always been drawn to people who have a passion that fuels them — people who share my same drive to change the world in a way that means something to them. So when I met Shannon Kang at a Running Start Elect Her training (organized by the university’s Department of Civic Engagement & Leadership Development), the fact that we ended up building a strong partnership shouldn’t have surprised me. But I didn’t quite realize the effect it would have on me.

As a 19-year-old political science student, Shannon set her sights on running for City Council so that a district that is home to students would be represented by an actual student. I knew I needed to get to know her better, and it wasn’t long after the workshop that she asked me to be her campaign manager.

It would be a struggle to find two people as different as Shannon and I are, working together. Maybe that’s why our team worked so well. Shannon is a natural-born leader who loves thinking about the big picture of representing her constituents well. If you asked her, she would tell you there was never a moment when she thought we would lose the race. She brings a positive energy to everything she does.

I, on the other hand, am a fan of the details in life. The role of a campaign manager (just like that of an engineer) is to focus on the little things that might sneak up on you. I had a healthy skepticism during the entire campaign. I really wasn’t sure we’d win. I see myself as a reluctant leader — that is, until people like Shannon come along and help me see my value. And it really paid off: we won! Shannon is the youngest-ever elected official in West Lafayette, Indiana.

What Shannon and I have in common is the spark that keeps us going. We need that spark because young women are consistently underestimated, and our ideas are undervalued in every field, from engineering to politics. This is why women are the ones who will lead critical conversations on how to redesign our shared future.

So think about the young women in your life. Talk to them about their passions and ideas — if they don’t have them now, they will soon. Invest your time in them, either to help them or just to listen. At the very least, watch them grow — because they will lead you to a future you may have never imagined.

Headshot of the author, Leela Menon, wearing a yellow blazer, against a light blue background.
Left to right: Three fun photos of Shannon Kang and her campaign manager, the author.

Headshot of the author, Leela Menon, wearing a yellow blazer, against a light blue background.

Leela Menon is a senior at Purdue University studying Environmental & Ecological Engineering. In Fall 2019, she was a Running Start Congressional Fellow for the US House of Representatives and a campaign manager for a West Lafayette City Council election. After graduating, Leela will work to develop engineering solutions for global sustainability and climate change, like renewable energy. Later in life, she may run for office to push for legislation in these same areas.

What’s not on her resume is that Leela tries to bring compassion to everything she does. If she offers to help you, it’s because she really does believe in you and wants you to see yourself the way she sees you. She doesn’t believe in small-talk. Leela would love to start a conversation with you, and hopes you’ll reach out.