Carnegie Mellon University

Friedman Fellows 2020

August 07, 2020

IPS Class of 2020 graduates share the next step in their journeys

By Bill Brink

Finding a job out of college was hard enough before COVID-19.

Class of 2020 graduates entering the workforce now must contend with the fallout of the pandemic, which raised unemployment to near 15 percent and led to a 33 percent second-quarter drop in the gross domestic product, the largest such drop in US history. Advice from recent Institute for Politics and Strategy graduates to future classes – begin the process with plenty of time – becomes even more prescient.

“I think starting early, and having an understanding of what places you’re looking for, really helps you in making sure that the job search goes smoother,” said Sim Ahuja, an International Relations and Politics and Decision Science major who graduated this spring.

IPS caught up with Ahuja and three other Class of 2020 graduates to learn about their time at Carnegie Mellon, their job search, and the next step in their studies or careers. For all of them, graduate school is in their future.

“My mindset has always been … let’s just get there,” said Ali Munden, who majored in IRP with minors in Cybersecurity and International Conflict and Business Administration. “Let’s go as fast as we can.”

Munden is a planner. During the first semester of her freshman year, she created a spreadsheet detailing the courses she needed to take, and after mapping out her junior year, she realized she was done. She graduated in three years, but she won’t go straight to law school: She joined Teach for America, and will serve as a Special Education Corps Member in Nashville.

“I really liked the idea that I could basically serve my country, but in a very non-traditional sense, and get to explore education in a first-hand way,” Munden said. “I think after my time with Teach for America, if I go into the policy world, education is going to be relevant, and it will be nice to have had that experience and used the time while I was young to serve before I needed to be in a certain place or start doing more obligations that you had as an adult.”

Like Munden, Ahuja will spend some time in the workforce before law school. By starting early, she had an offer in December, and accepted a position as a communications and government affairs associate at GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company.

Ahuja interned in the private sector, with stints at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy and ExxonMobil. She also spent a summer on Capitol Hill interning in Congress. The connection between the two is her sweet spot.

“Freshman and sophomore year, I was fairly confident I wanted to work in government,” she said. “My junior year summer, I worked at ExxonMobil in their public and government affairs department, and that was when I realized that I really liked the private-public intersection rather than just purely public. When I was exploring job options my senior year first semester, I was really focusing in on companies that had these departments so I could have both the public exposure and private exposure.”

Gabriella Bettino also had a formative experience in Washington, DC. As a member of the Spring 2019 Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program cohort, she had coffee with Frank Rose, a former Assistant Secretary of State. “Do whatever you can to get your Master’s as quickly as possible,” he told her. She took the advice to heart and entered IPS’ Accelerated Master of Science in International Relations and Politics program, which allows her to earn both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in five years by taking some graduate courses during senior year.

“I breathed a sigh of relief when I was looking at job numbers and knew I had another year of school,” Bettino said.

Bettino comes from a military family and would like to work in the defense sector. She had never considered lobbying or advocacy. When her current boss contacted IPS Deputy Director Emily Half looking for interns, Bettino sent her resume on a whim, and landed an internship this summer with The McKeon Group, a lobbying and consulting firm.

“I’ll do anything from getting draft copies of bills, getting contact information, or actually doing outreach on bills that we’re trying to get passed for our clients,” she said. “No two days are exactly the same, and that’s been very exciting to move through, especially with the appropriations process happening right now.”

Cassie Scanlon joins Bettino among those going directly to graduate school. Scanlon, an IRP major, will enroll in the University of Pittsburgh’s law school in the fall.  

“I was that weird kid in fifth grade, ‘I want to go to law school when I get older,’” Scanlon said. “But I have a lot of different interests in the law. I specifically have worked a lot with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and in that process have been exposed to so many holes in the legal system. I want to have a career that focuses on creating a more survivor-centered approach and a more trauma-informed approach in the legal system.”

Scanlon has worked at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh for more than two years, answering the text and chat lines, providing crisis counseling and emotional support, and helping with housing applications. She also interned with Rise, a sexual assault survivor advocacy organization, lobbying for sexual assault bills at the state, local, and United Nations level.

Scanlon has talked to Carnegie Mellon alumni who assured her that the rigorous undergraduate workload prepared her well for law school. Whether grad school or a first job, CMU and IPS provides its graduates with the skills necessary to succeed.

“I had a lot of really awesome professors that encouraged us all to be working toward this concept of the greater good, serving the public and engaging in public-service jobs to make a better tomorrow,” Munden said. “I think that really helped me in terms of philosophy or motivation or something along those lines, just guiding me on the paths that I want to go into.”

Those professors created an environment for close examination of the issues of the day.

“I think CMU, especially IPS, the classes I’ve had, have facilitated a lot of really great discussion and have allowed for a lot of critical thought in the majority of things that happen in the world,” Ahuja said. “For someone like me who has been pursuing internships in government or advocacy or media relations, that’s something that’s really important, to be able to look at things that are happening in the world, major events, and seeing how they impact companies on a day-to-day basis.”