From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, over 800,000 federal employees were furloughed while the US federal government was shutdown. But for government employee, Kogod alumna, and current Alumni Board Member London McCloud, an opportunity arose in the midst of the shutdown. Her idea? To provide furloughed employees with free on-campus workshops and networking opportunities.
“I think what really encouraged me to do this was seeing this as a learning opportunity, an opportunity to grow,” McCloud said. “For me, it was really just seeing what could you do with free time, and I am a big advocate of learning. I just thought this was a good opportunity.”
Both American University’s School of Public Affairs and School of Professional and Extended Studies (SPExS) hosted the free workshops, offering half to full day-long trainings on topics such as workplace mindfulness, project leadership and how to deal with change. Kogod professors Mark Clark, Caroline Bruckner, Alberto Espinosa and Tom Kohn, among others, all taught, free-of-charge.
McCloud herself attended and found that the featured topics provided an avenue for both learning and networking.
“When you bring together people who are like-minded and have the same interests, things flow,” she said.
One class that stood out for McCloud was Tom Kohn’s entrepreneurship class titled “It’s Never too Late to Become an Entrepreneur.” In it, Kohn discussed how to be an entrepreneur, and the pros and cons of the challenges that come with the job.
“It was such an inspiring course, where he talked to us about entrepreneurs at every age,” McCloud said. “I think it encouraged participants to start their business or continue their business while on furlough. I think the timing and the topic was very relevant.”
For Kohn, a strategic management professor at Kogod, volunteering to teach the class was a no-brainer. After submitting his idea to teach about entrepreneurship, he brainstormed the theme for the workshop with Jill Klein, Kogod professor and Interim Dean of School of Professional and Extended Studies (SPeXS), and quickly put together the different components of the class.
“I wanted it to inspire them, to give themselves a chance to eventually become an entrepreneur,” Kohn said. “I often tell my students, the reason I'm so excited about entrepreneurship is [because] learning the skills of entrepreneurship helps you run your own life and control your own life, rather than life controlling you.”
After his workshop, Kohn had the opportunity to speak with a few of the participants and was inspired by their outlook of the furlough.
“One of the [things that surprised me] was that they had a very optimistic and positive outlook on things,” he said. “I'm sure they were upset about their situation, but they were upbeat, and that was really cool to see.”
Klein, who helped brainstorm and organize the opportunity, saw SPExS’ workshops (branded “AU4U”) as an opportunity to help a community in need.
“AU4U is intended to be a university opportunity to reach alumni,” Klein said. “SPExS put out a request for speakers to run workshops [and] seminars for furloughed workers on topics that excited them. Some sessions focused on professional development while others took a more nuanced opportunity to examine thought leading topics of the day.”
“[I hope that] AU4U embraced our alumni and their colleagues at a time when they needed it most.”