2020 Professional Development Forum: Career Building During a Pandemic

by Lara Mercado

The second annual Professional Development Forum was held on Tuesday, December 8th via Zoom. Despite the new online environment, Society for Technical Communication (STC) students successfully led a large turnout of 30+ participants. The forum intended for GMU English students to gather and share their professional experiences and skills. Those who attended came from various academic backgrounds including MA and PHD students, ENG 388 students, and Writing and Rhetoric professors.

The forum began with ice breaker questions offered through a poll on Zoom. Participants were asked about their favorite shows, favorite ice cream flavors, and the best type of cookie. Other options not offered on the poll were discussed over chat. This successfully sparked conversation and some debate over personal taste.


Following the first warmup poll, STC members Kathryn Meeks and Yoonji Kim led a second poll that asked professional development questions. These questions encouraged participants to think about their professional experiences, soft skills, and future career plans. Some students enthusiastically shared their answers in the chat, allowing them to get to know each other and their wide ranges of professional experience. While some participants already had established careers in the proposal writing field, others were just getting started with entry level internships and part-time work.

After the group discussion, Dr. Heidi Lawrence then congratulated some graduating MA students who shared their end projects and Capstone work for GMU. One student shared her role as a proposal writing manager and her daily responsibilities as she led her team to write a successful proposal.

At this time, the forum then transitioned into smaller breakout groups where participants brainstormed online professional development tools. The collaboration involved a Google Doc where groups added links to online courses, software tools, Podcasts, Tedtalks, conferences, and other accessible resources. These ideas were then shared in the main room before branching off to the next activity.

Next on the schedule was practicing elevator pitches. Moderators led a short presentation about elevator pitches and the different types used in varying professional settings. Participants were then divided into breakout groups once again where they had the opportunity to work on their pitch and “sell themselves” as a potential employee or as someone with an established career. The breakout groups allowed for more intimate settings where students could bounce ideas between themselves and provide tips on improving each other’s elevator pitches.

After some practice time, participants then regrouped to the main room where moderators asked for volunteers to share their elevator pitches. The types of pitches ranged from brief introductions to one’s professional career and background. Some shared prominent selling points about themselves. The chat showed their responses by sending clapping and cheering emojis. This activity allowed for students to bravely market themselves and practice the useful skill of elevator pitches.

Finally, to close out the program, all graduating students were recognized and congratulated for completing a successful semester.

Overall, this year’s Professional Development Forum allowed English students to virtually connect and reflect on their career paths. The forum also encouraged the continued professional growth of students through collaborative activities and exercises.