Growing Professionalism by Kristen Young, MPA graduate c/o 2013


These days, being professional is about a lot more than a shiny resume and strong educational background. Luckily, the College of Charleston is here to help.

We all know the Graduate School offers top-notch education in a variety of programs to offer students with a competitive edge in the workforce. Excitingly, it also offers resources and opportunities for personal and professional advancement that you should absolutely consider as an integral part of your graduate experience (and in your future career advancement). Here are some of my favorite resources and ideas on this topic that I learned through my experience in the grad school:

1. Professional is not boring (yay)! It’s about making friends and networking, developing a personal brand and professional identity.

You have a built-in network with your program cohort, so help each other grow during and after school. Some of my best interviews came from agencies where I knew friends or colleagues that gave a positive recommendation on my work. This means taking opportunities in grad school (like group or teamwork initiatives) to really showcase that you can work well with others and do your fair share.

  • During school, participate in extracurricular activities and professional clubs to boost your resume, skills set, and personal network. Check out the Graduate School Association or join any number of the clubs on campus that can be found on the Office of Student Life website.

  • After graduation, join professional networking groups like Charleston Young Professionals, Charleston Center for Women, or any number of professional groups related to your field. They offer special engagements and programs for professional learning in a fun atmosphere, as well as opportunities for travel and leadership. And as Alumni, join a chapter group with the CofC Alumni Association for great events and opportunities to give back.

2. Volunteering is a great way to build your professional abilities and impress potential employers.

Find volunteer opportunities during school, at the College itself and with local nonprofits. I found my internship with a local non-profit (Charleston Moves) through the MPA program, and still volunteer with them today! Find a way to help a cause that you care for, or an organization that you love; it will increase your professional opportunities exponentially and provide a platform to showcase your skills pre-interview.

3. Develop your personal brand in a professional way.

This means cleaning up your social networking sites, taking down ethically sensitive photos or posts- you know the drill. But more than that, it means building a personal presence online. For example- start a blog, tweak your Linkedin, upload your papers and projects on Issuu, or present your resume infographically on Take time to research applications that will help employers find you, and find the best information about you. And for goodness sake, Google yourself!

4. Have initiative in learning outside of the classroom. Be an opportunist.

I know it’s asking a lot for a busy graduate student to spend precious free time on self learning initiatives, I’ve been there, I really have. But if you can spare a few moments, explore ways to make yourself a more efficient student. Check out the student support and workshops provided by the Graduate School and the Center for Student Learning at CofC. Take classes and workshops on anything that interests you that can help you grow professionally; lessons in languages, graphic arts, programming, and any number of subjects can be found online for free at some major universities and through mysliderule.

5. Get a mentor; seek advice and help when you need it.

Learn from those wiser and more experienced than you. Surround yourself with interesting and worldly people, academics and scholars. Most importantly, find someone whom you feel you can connect with and learn from professionally. For me, it was my program director- Dr. Jo Ann Ewalt- who became a sounding board for my ideas, projects, and occasional frustrations. Her professional guidance allowed me to view new perspectives and pursue new pathways in learning.

  • Present your work at conferences and symposiums to gain valuable advice from colleagues and experts in your field, and add valuable public speaking experience to your professional tool belt.
  • Seek guidance when you are confused, frustrated, or stressed (we’ve all been there) from the Graduate School Office or the College Counseling Center. There are resources available on campus that can address most, if not all, of your personal and professional needs.

6. Learn from the habits of successful people, and know that being professional means you can still follow your dreams.

Check out literature on your role models, learn from people who successfully follow their dreams, and learn to accomplish your own professionally. Also there are many Ted Talks available on the subject of growing professionally and accomplishing goals that I’d recommend to almost anyone, especially Amy Cuddy’s “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. Seek and impress with innovation. There are no limits to what you can accomplish!


Until Next Time,




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