Finding opportunity among the continued challenges of the coronavirus, the Ford School’s traditional career trip to Washington, DC took on a new and expanded approach this year in the form of a three-day virtual January Graduate Student Career Expo held January 12-14, 2021.
The reimagined virtual expo organized by the Ford School’s Graduate Career Services & Alumni Relations team brought together an incredible cadre of 112 master's students to engage with potential employers and alumni from around the world. Across the sessions, career panels, and small group breakouts, students had the opportunity to engage with more than 75 Ford School alumni, hosts, and panelists representing 72 different organizations and agencies. By going virtual, the event also took advantage of the Ford School’s incredible and widespread alumni network and connections well beyond DC including panelists and speakers from 17 U.S. states/territories, and six other countries including Bulgaria, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom.
Expo sessions covered a robust set of opportunities for MPPs/MPAs arranged by employment sectors and policy areas of interest. Careers in the private sector, local and state government, consulting, the federal government (inside and outside of DC), in social justice, international policy/development, energy/environment, education, and health policy were all highlighted. Additional workshops focused on interview preparation and negotiation strategies, navigating identities in the workplace as well as support for international students and those making a career pivot.
Given the broad applicability of an MPP/MPA degree, current students were often eager to understand how alumni and panelists applied what they learned in graduate school to their careers, and what advice they might have for a new generation of public policy practitioners about to enter the workforce.
One of the sessions featured a panel of 2020 graduates. As the first class to graduate in the pandemic, they shared insights on their experiences navigating the altered career search process, what it was like starting a new role remotely, and how they adjusted to new (mostly remote) work environments. For soon to be graduates, their experiences provided much needed context for the search process ahead.
In another workshop, Dean Michael Barr and Liz Schrayer, President & CEO, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), facilitated a discussion with students about the value of networking and relationship building for future professional success. Their message resonated with many of the students attending, including Maggie Barnard (MPP ‘21).
"The networking tips session led by Liz Schrayer and Dean Barr was particularly helpful,” said Barnard. “Although they reminded us that networking is an art, not a science, they laid out professional tools to help us bolster our presence and refine our approach at networking events."
Students had an opportunity to practice their networking skills by joining 90 alumni for an evening of Ford School trivia and networking roundtables. They tested their knowledge of the Ford School, and then chatted casually about their professional interests and navigating the current career landscape. Networking in the breakout rooms (and other Expo sessions) is already proving beneficial. Many students are already actively following up with the connections they made and taking the next step toward their future internship and career goals.
Throughout the expo, alumni and panelists shared their experiences, professional insights, and offered advice to students preparing for their internship and career searches. Many also reiterated a common refrain; that the Ford School community is strong, and that Fordies stand ready to support each other in any way they can.
By Chadd Dowding