Carnegie Mellon University

CMU students collaborate

May 11, 2023

Teaching for Career Success

IPS Expands Tomorrow’s Professionals

By Lindsay Marcellus

In response to student requests, the Institute for Politics and Strategy (IPS) is expanding its offerings of Tomorrow’s Professionals, a mini course that prepares students to “hit the ground running” in their internships and first jobs. Previously only available to undergraduates in preparation for the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP), beginning in Fall 2023, IPS is opening enrollment in some sections of the course to all Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) students, including undergraduate and graduate students. 

The seminar is the brainchild of IPS Associate Professor of the Practice Haleigh Bartos. Prior to joining IPS, Bartos spent over a decade working in Washington, DC. She noticed that some organizations included explicit mentorship in professionalism in their workforce development, and that in these cases, both the employees and the organizations benefited over the long run. Based on that experience, she developed a mini course to equip CMU students with the skills necessary to begin building their unique professional brands while avoiding costly errors early in their careers. 

The seminar, which is three units, meets once per week. In addition to interview skills and how to prepare tailored job application materials, students also learn how to navigate the workplace, find mentors, project a professional image, respond to workplace challenges and map a career path. The course is predicated on the conviction that while professionalism is a defining component of career success, it is not innate. 

The idea that professionalism is a skill that needs to be taught and learned resonates with student experience. For example, Joyce Lee, an International Relations and Politics major who completed an internship at the United States Supreme Court Clerk’s Office this spring as a participant in the Washington Semester Program, found that the class helped fill an informational gap. While she is not a first generation college student, Lee noted that prior to Tomorrow’s Professionals, she did not have any contacts within the field who could help her know what to expect or review her documents. She especially appreciated the opportunity to participate in mock interviews and to think through responses to possible interview questions.  “Tomorrow’s Professionals helped me prepare for my internship, especially as it was my first in-person one,” Lee said. “I rather wish I took this course in my first year so that I would have been better equipped for applying to and working in positions earlier on.”

Tomorrow’s Professionals complements other professional preparation that Bartos offers, including a briefing class and a course that teaches writing for political science and policy. Students who complete the course say that they feel better prepared to succeed in their internships. Professionalism is the cornerstone of career success in general, and not just for those who plan to work in policy, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or think tanks.

Anuli (Ashley) Onuigbo with Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don GravesAnuli (Ashley) Onuigbo with Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. 

Anuli (Ashley) Onuigbo, a junior majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Politics and Public Policy, credits the course with helping her secure a great internship in the Office of the Deputy Secretary in the Department of Commerce. “I sincerely believe that taking Tomorrow's Professionals set me up for success during my time in the Washington Semester Program. We received a lot of tips on how to market ourselves, how to be professional in the workplace, and the best ways to improve resumes and cover letters.” Asked what she took away from the course, Onuigbo highlighted the concept of creating a personal “brand” as a professional. She also found that the course boosted her confidence without sacrificing authenticity, as she learned how her optimistic and cheerful personality could work to her advantage during interviews. Onuigbo concluded that “This class is useful for anyone, regardless of their major. I'm currently a Tepper student majoring in business administration, and I learned a lot from this course. If you're willing to put in the work to improve both your soft skills and hard skills, I think this class could be extremely beneficial.”

Kyle McClain, a junior who is majoring in Ethics, History, and Public Policy with an additional major in Philosophy, says that students should expect the class to change their thinking about their professional lives. For his part, the course helped him prepare both for the internship process and the internship itself. His main takeaway from the course was the realization that “being deliberate with your professionalism will get you very far in the world.” This intentionality can help students at every stage in the process – from searching for internships that align with their values, to tailoring their application materials, to thinking through how they conduct themselves while at work. Like Onuigbo, McClain thinks that any student would benefit from participating in the course. He added, “The skills it focuses on are important for any career, with topics like how to handle workplace disputes, learning how to say no at work, and how to integrate your personal and professional sides.” 

CMU undergraduate and graduate students who would like to enroll in Tomorrow’s Professionals this fall should register for the A1 or A2 sections of 84-215 or 84-715, respectively. Undergraduate students also have the option to take the course remotely this summer. Students who are planning to participate in CMU/WSP during the spring 2024 semester should plan to take section B2.