Professional Development Fund helps jumpstart careers

August 14, 2014

With valuable educational opportunities beckoning in cities near and far, Ford School students benefit from supplemental funding that allows them to take advantage of career-enhancing programs. Every year the school sponsors 10-15 such students through its Professional Development Fund. The Professional Development Fund offers grants of up to $500 to master's students who secure creative, participatory opportunities to further their careers. Funding typically covers the cost of case competitions, specialized training programs, or career-enhancing simulation exercises, but Ford School students have also used the grants to attend anything from Berlin's Ethical Fashion Week to the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Houston, and these activities have taken place all over the globe, from Melbourne to Warsaw to the UN headquarters in New York.

Alyssa Mouton, a recent Ford School graduate, used the grant to help fund her attendance at the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2014. "I learned about a multitude of approaches to gender equality and women's health that I hadn't been exposed to before," she writes. As part of her participation in the program, she was paired with a more experienced member of her sponsoring organization, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, who, she writes, "has continued to mentor me, support me and challenge me to conduct advocacy activities on issues that matter to me."

Marisol Ramos, another recent grad, used her grant to attend the Association of American Geographers conference in April 2013, which included opportunities to work with advanced information mappers. She had previously done work on mapping undocumented student communities in the United States. "At the conference I met with leading geography and immigration policy researchers who were able to workshop through my research proposal and offer pointers as to what directions I should consider going with the research," she writes. A year later, Marisol is a research associate with the Michigan Department of Education in Detroit and is working on co-founding an immigrant work center.

Aubrey Sitler, one of a few Ford School students who used their grants to study overseas, attended the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education, and Social Development in Melbourne, Australia in July 2014. "It consisted of hundreds of presentations on a variety of topics," she writes. "The theme that most resonated with me through each presentation revolved around the importance of and intersection between cultural contexts and social and personal identities in designing, implementing, and analyzing any program or intervention."

The Ford School has specific priorities for grant recipients. Grants can’t be used for events that are primarily about networking, for example; they can’t be used for activities offered by the University of Michigan; and conferences need to offer students an opportunity to actively participate, not just observe. “The goal,” says Amy Johnson, assistant director of Graduate Career Services, “is to fund skill-based outcomes that enhance students’ Ford School training.” "The professional development grant offers an opportunity for students to expand the knowledge and contextualize the skill set already built into their Ford School education," echoes Aubrey Sitler, "and I would encourage anyone to consider utilizing this generous resource."