Michael O'Shea | Public Policy Analysis

From: Chicago, Illinois

Pomona Days: Class of 2011 | Public Policy Analysis Major - Politics Concentration

Past Education: University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
M.S.Ed. Higher Education (2015)

Current Employment:

#Popscope Public Astronomy Program
Co-founder and Co-coordinator (2/2014 – Present)

Past Employment:

  • EducationUSA Officer in Canada with Fulbright Canada and U.S. Embassy - Ottawa
  • Fulbright Researcher, McGill University September 2011 – June 2012
  • Office Assistant, Employer Relations Assistant Pomona College January 2008 – May 2011
  • Intern, The Trust for Public Land January 2010 – December 2010 Press
  • Intern to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), The United States Senate July 2009 – August 2009 (2 months)
  • Intern Aide to Alderman Gene Schulter (47th Ward), City of Chicago June 2008 – January 2009

 

First, let me say that I am delighted to share my story with current Pomona students who are thinking about their future career paths. I believe one of the best resources and sources of information for career development are professionals in the field...And what better professionals than graduates of Pomona College! Feel free to find me on LinkedIn [http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=38298941&trk=spm_pic] if you want to follow up on any of the points raised below. Chirp!

 

I’ve broken down my responses to this question into three sections: 1. Why Pomona? 2. My work today, 3. And advice for (not-so-)young Sagehens.

 

Why Pomona?

 I chose Pomona after my high school counselor in Chicago suggested it. He pulled a fat book from his bookshelf and laid it on the table. It was the 2007 Fiske Guide to the Colleges. He opened the book with theglossy blue-green cover and flipped through the pages until he stopped at a school: Pomona College. “You might get in there, and you might get some money. I went home that night and read more about Pomona College. Small school and classes? Great.  Outstanding professors and people as warm as the weather? Yes, please. And California? Well, I’d never been but it sounded nice. 

 

I applied to Pomona and was accepted in spring 2007. More importantly, I received generous financial aid that helped family and me afford Pomona’s hefty price tag.

 

The following fall I boarded a plane from Chicago and set foot in sunny Claremont under the peaks of the San Gabriels. I never looked back.

 

My work today

Since 2012, I have been working as the EducationUSA Advisor in Canada at the U.S. Embassy and Fulbright Canada, both in Ottawa. I help prospective Canadian students identify and apply for study opportunities at U.S. colleges and universities. I also help promote the Fulbright Program and an undergraduate exchange program, the Killam Fellowships Program. I also serve as a point of contact for U.S. institutions interested in recruiting in Canada.

 

I love my work as it allows me to be directly involved in higher education and international education, two of my passions. Both have the potential to change students' lives and promote mutual understanding between peoples or between nations. I have the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of students and educators, from Aboriginal school counselors to Halifax high school students. There's always something new, so work is usually interesting. During a typical day, I could be writing a blog post about our latest informational session at a French-language high school, planning a recruitment visit for a U.S. university, or creating new informational handouts about U.S. colleges.

 

I'm lucky to have this job, and my path to it is a bit surprising. I applied for a Fulbright research award to Canada in my senior year as PPA major at Pomona. I proposed to study comparative urban park policy in Montreal: I hoped to make conclusions about the relationship between public park accessibility in low-income neighborhoods and community health. I also wanted to make comparisons between levels of open space accessibility and community health in Canada and the U.S.A. I have Pomona to thank for introducing me to the Fulbright program at an information session at Frank Dining Hall, for assigning me a fellowship mentor who made sure my application came together, and for dedicated and caring professors who recommended me.

 

I was successful in my Fulbright application, and I moved to Montreal in fall 2011! A very different world greeted me in Montreal than the four years in the San Gabriel Valley I had grown accustomed to: French language, bitterly cold winters, and the large urban campus of McGill University beneath the city's landmark peak, Mont Royal. I enjoyed my time in Montreal, studying parks and community health. I made a wide circle of friends and contacts that enriched my understanding of Canada and the United States. I saw the value of the Fulbright program: to open students' and scholars' eyes to the world and to promote mutual understanding between countries.  You can read more about my daily life in Montreal [http://osheamontreal.blogspot.ca/] and my research about parks [

http://greenalleymontreal.blogspot.ca/

] on the two blogs I wrote during my Fulbright.

 

As I wrapped up my Fulbright, I knew that I wanted to keep working in international education. I applied for a job with Fulbright Canada, and I was successful! The job, EducationUSA Advisor in Canada, involved working jointly with the U.S. Embassy & Fulbright to establish a new, primarily virtual advising center in Canada. This Advising Center would be party of the EducationUSA network, supported by the U.S. Department of State, that advises international students on U.S. study. You can read more about the EducationUSA network  here:www.educationusa.info, and more about EducationUSA in Canada, here:  www.educationusa.info/ottawa.

 

My time as the EducationUSA Advisor is coming to an end in Canada, as my contract expires in July 2014. I am excited to be returning to school in fall 2014. I will be pursuing in Master’s in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. At Pennsylvania, I will have the chance to explore in depth, inside the classroom, the issues in higher education and international education I have encountered in Canada. I’m obviously very sad to leave, but excited about this next stage of my journey.

 

Career Advice for Young Sagehens

 

Actually you’re not so young, as you already know. Most of you reading are probably between 18 and 22, which means you are now very much adults! Very soon the seniors among you will be leaving Pomona’s sunny, palm tree-blessed campus for jobs and further studies in locations across the United States and the world.

 

I spoke in spring 2014 to a group of Pomona students about preparing for life after graduation. In my presentation, I distilled my advice from my old age into a few basic points. These points might be worth remembering as you plot your own path come June after graduation:

 

Your major does not have to be your career path.

It took me a while to figure this one out. If you are a chemistry major, you can apply for law school. If you are a sociology major, you can work for a media company. If you are an economics major you can work for a non-profit the organization. Don’t think that major has to determine your career path. This lesson is especially important for graduates of a liberal arts college, where, in addition to content, you are learning skills that will serve you well in any position: writing, speaking, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.

 

As you take courses in Africana Studies, astronomy, or energy policy, think about you can market yourself as a liberal arts college after graduation. Not every employer will know about Pomona. For example, how can explain to an interviewer how your senior thesis about water recycling at college campuses and your summer internship with Sierra Club in Sacramento make you a strong candidate for a position with a policy think tank in Washington, D.C.?

 

There is rarely one career path.

The exact number varies, but most studies estimate that today’s college graduates will many, many internships and jobs throughout their professional career. Even if you are not in love with your first position after graduation, think about ways your current job (with the long commute, unpleasant boss, etc.) can be preparation for jobs in the future in terms of industry connections, skill building, and a better understanding what you want to do with your career

 

Apply for things

This one sounds easy, but it’s not. I saw it at Pomona among my friends, and I still see it today. An attitude reflected in statements like this made around Frary dining tables during application season:

 

“I don’t know if I really want to do this after graduation. I mean I’m kind of sick of research.”

 

“I’m not sure if I really want to do politics. I liked being a Politics major, but do I really want this job? Maybe I’ll wait for something else.”

 

I was guilty of this attitude myself: endlessly thinking about the right position after graduation and nervously holding off the application process.  You can’t decide on an opportunity until you have the opportunity in hand! You can always turn down a job, but you can’t accept a job you never applied for in the first place. (Obviously, don’t waste your time applying for opportunities that don’t interest you at all)  But if you think you might want to do job X or study at graduate school Y, go ahead, give it a shot!

 

Practice the liberal arts AND the career arts!

 

Pomona is a wonderful place to explore the liberal arts, investigating the history of music in early 20th c. France, thinking about the connections between fractals and biochemistry, or the discussing the role of realism in foreign policy. You can do all of this is a bit of Paradise in Southern California where the sun never stops shining. So go ahead enjoy the liberal arts college experience: go to Snack and hear an a capella concert, write your thesis late at night in ITS, play rec-league baseball, and lounge on Walker Beach under an oak tree.

 

But as you practice the liberal arts at Pomona, don’t forget the career arts. This is a term I use to mean all the things that go into being a competitive candidate for a job, internship, volunteer spot, research position, or graduate school. Career arts are things like resume writing, knowing how to apply for a job, networking, interpersonal skills. You will practice the career arts from the day you leave Pomona to the day you retire.

 

At least once in a while during your freshman and sophomore year, think about what you might want to do after graduation. Think about what you can do to prepare yourself for that job or graduate school. Is an internship in your hometown? A volunteer experience while school is in session? A research opportunity on campus over the summer?

 

 (It’s funny, but activities that don’t seem career-related can often figure into your career development. Did you write an editorial about the dining halls for The Student Life newspaper? You might be able to produce it as a writing sample for a job. Or perhaps you play an instrument: my own experience playing jazz accordion has often come up during interviews or in the workplace. Your extra-curricular activities and hobbies will also be important as a way to achieve work-life balance when you are faced with a demanding work schedule or tough office environment.)

 

Do these things, even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after Pomona. Engaging yourself in a variety of professional settings will build experiences and skills that will make you a more competitive candidate to an employer or graduate school.

 

And, equally importantly, doing these professional activities will help you better understand what you want in your career. Your understanding of yourself and your career trajectory will change, and may take time to develop.

 

Fortunately, you’re not on your own, when it comes to practicing the “career arts!” Pomona is generously endowed with research money and student services to help you find an internship, job, or independent research opportunity. In fact, there is a whole office filled with staff whose full-time occupation it is to help you find a job, internship, or hone a resume!

 

It’s called the Career Development Office (CDO)! Don’t be afraid of the CDO: stop by your freshman year and attend a CDO presentation about summer internships, networking 101 - anything. Once you start going, you’ll find senior year a whole easier when your faced with an onslaught of cover letters, case interviews, and internship applications to turn in! (You’ll also impress your friends with your knowledge of proper resume format.)

 

Career development is just that: development. It starts with the first thought you have about applying for a job,  through every cover letter, every book or presentation you attend about networking and office skills. And it continues throughout your career! So, if you haven’t already, start the process with yourself, your mentor, your professor, and the CDO and other student services on campus. (And say hello to the CDO office fish as you eat a free CDO cookie).

 

Like most of you, I didn’t know what was in store for me after graduation, even up the until the day I took my diploma from President Oxtoby in May 2011. I thought I was heading to Springfield, Illinois to be a press intern, or stay in Canada studying parks for the rest of my life. There is really no way to know what you end up doing. Prepare yourself, embrace the uncertainty, and enjoy the ride! Best of luck.