By Mike Kersmarki

Get involved, volunteer, find an internship and, most of all, don’t be afraid to try something new.

That was some of the advice given by Deborah Tamargo and others recently to a mostly student audience of several dozen women at the University of South Florida.

And for those interested in politics?  Get involved in student government and, more importantly, learn as much as you can from as many diverse sources of information as possible – from think tanks to many types of media - said Tamargo, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.

“You can be very natural and very outgoing” to impress voters if you run for office, said Tamargo, a former Florida state representative.  “But you can fail because you don’t have the substantive part in your suitcase … be prepared; you’ve got to have that data.  You also have to have the passion.” 

Similar advice was offered by another member of the four-member panel, Rebecca Liner, executive vice president for Tallahassee’s James Madison Institute, a research and educational group promoting ideas that are “rooted in a belief in the U.S. Constitution and such timeless ideals as limited government, economic freedom, federalism, and individual liberty coupled with individual responsibility.”

“Be true to whom you are, not who your mom and dad want you to be, not who your friends think you are,” Liner said. “ … Follow your passion and don’t let anyone get in your way.”

Tamargo and Liner and two other women on the panel spoke at an event organized by USF’s Women in Leadership & Philanthropy, a program formed in 2005 at the university to engage and develop the intellectual and leadership potential of women. 

The other two panelists were Merritt Martin, state legislative affairs director for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, and Alma Gonzalez, manager of employee relations & personnel actions for the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board.

Tamargo, who has a sociology degree from USF and served in student government at the university, and the other panelists, also spoke individually with audience members after the program.

Information about various programs, internships and future events also was available at the seminar, including promotional material for next month’s Women’s Conference of Florida in Tampa.