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AU Kicks Off Series of Skill-Building Workshops for Community

ABetterU Skills Development Institute

With COVID and remote learning shaking up the academic year, AU administrators wanted to offer a little something extra to the university community. “ABetterU,” a free five-part virtual workshop series launched October 9, included a dozen professional and personal enrichment sessions for students, alumni, and faculty.

For current and beginning researchers, SPA faculty led workshops on identifying and using “good” data and the basics of creating a podcast. Other members of the AU community hosted sessions on navigating the job search in a virtual environment, time management, and intercultural understanding.

“We built this with the idea of giving students skills to benefit them in a variety of areas,” said SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins, who chaired the planning committee for the first institute.

ABetterU, which focuses more on life-skills than academics, was roughly modeled after SPA’s “Classes Without Quizzes,” a 2019 continuing education event offered to federal workers during the government shutdown, said Gihan Fernando, executive director of the AU Career Center.

“This really dovetails with the kind of place that AU is and the work of my team,” continued Fernando, who joined Dean Wilkins on the ABetterU planning team. “Part of the charge was to help give students an edge in some way and to be engaging. AU is a place where our students are strongly engaged in experiential education and have very positive outcomes with post-graduation work or going on for further education. This seemed like a natural way to move forward.”

Molly O’Rourke, executive in residence at the AU School of Communication, gave a presentation on how to make sense of political polls. She provided a checklist for the upcoming election, teaching consumers to look beyond the headlines to understand the survey methodology.

“This is what everybody is going to be talking about for the next three or four weeks,” said O’Rourke, who applauded the university for offering practical workshops for the community. “One of the hallmarks of AU is that our students are eager to take their education and go out in the world and make a difference.”

With many students learning off-campus this semester, the ABetterU committee wanted to provide an opportunity to learn more about Washington, D.C. SPA Professor Derek Hyra hosted a session on the extreme level of gentrification in the city, and discussed potential paths to equitable development.

“I talked about the redevelopment wave that is sweeping over the city, but how public policy tools can be utilized to make sure displacement is minimized and benefits for low-income people are maximized,” said Hyra. He also suggested possible points of connection for the community, including advocacy organizations where his students have volunteered in the past.

As Erik Lovece (MA/CAS ’22) searched for an internship in data analysis, he tuned into the ABetterU workshop on job networking to get tips from Scott Talen, assistant professor of communication.

“It was helpful to hear from an experienced professional about how to cultivate your LinkedIn profile beyond the standard recommendations,” Lovece said. “Because people are telecommuting, they are not constrained by location. I expect that I will be competing with people from across the country.”

Additional ABetterU sessions will be held in Spring 2021.