Even as a college student, NRECA's Ivy Prater displayed the ambition, eloquence and poise needed to land a coveted Washington, D.C., fellowship for talented young professionals.

The native Nebraskan "could talk to anybody about anything," recalled Patrick Ahearn, NRECA's director of political affairs. He met Prater during a Washington Nationals baseball game when she was working as a staff assistant for the Youth Leadership Council as part of the 2014 Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Their animated nine-inning conversation covered a lot of ground, including "her dream of coming to and working in D.C.," said Ahearn, who hired Prater twice as a summer intern.

Fast-forward to today: Prater, now 24, is a coalition and grassroots associate on Ahearn's team and a 2020 recipient of the Judy Schneider Fellowship, a yearlong program sponsored by Women in Government Relations. She is one of three young women selected from a pool of about 70 applicants in the D.C. area

Begun in 2015 and named after Schneider, who's renowned for schooling new lawmakers and their staff on the intricacies of Congress, the fellowship is one of the few of its kind, according to Emily Bardach, WGR's executive director. Those selected attend networking events, maintain a blog, attend Schneider's class and remain involved with WGR when their fellowships end.

For Prater, who promised herself she'd return to Washington after participating in the 2012 Youth Tour, the fellowship is the chance of a lifetime.

"The biggest opportunity I'm looking forward to will be soaking up all of the information I can because there's so much to learn, everywhere. I'm excited for the ability to grow personally and professionally through this fellowship and I can't wait to do so," she said.

Raised in Elgin, Nebraska, population 622, Prater knows all about co-ops—or public power districts as they're called in her home state—and small-town life. The granddaughter of a general manager of Cherry-Todd Electric Cooperative in Mission, South Dakota, Prater grew up on the lines of Battle Creek-based Elkhorn PPD. Her high school graduating class had 12 students, and her brother was her history teacher during senior year.

To Prater, those experiences are "who I am and continue to have a really positive impact on me. It's something that you don't really realize how powerful it is until you're no longer living in that community," she said. "You don't view yourself as anything less because you have everything you need, and you work hard for what you have."

Youth Tour gave Prater her first taste of life outside of Elgin.

"We met with Hill staffers who told us how you don't have to be a political science major [to work in Congress or D.C. in general]. You could major in public relations…or anything you are passionate about. That's when I realized that could be me if I worked hard and set my mind to it. I decided I really wanted to come back out here and give it a shot."

Ahearn realizes Prater might move on from NRECA down the road, and he's fine with that because it's an investment in future leadership. "We're willing to take that loss. She has the potential to maybe go back to Nebraska and head up a co-op or a statewide and have a real leadership role in the co-op world."