A Meaningful Opportunity | UMBC Student Success Story

We had the pleasure of interviewing UMBC IO Psychology graduate student, John D’Amore about his experience with the program and also the benefits of the practicum course.

What made you choose IO Psychology as a field of study?

While in undergrad, I quickly recognized that I wanted to pursue a career in psychology that was heavily applied. I wasn’t interested in teaching or research and recognized I/O psychology as a sub-field that was heavily focused on the practical application of psychology in organizations. That is, I felt like I/O psychology would enable me to make a tangible impact in the professional world. As I studied it more, I became passionate about issues like group dynamics, diversity and inclusion, personality assessment, and leadership development. I/O ended up being a great fit for my interests.

Why did you choose UMBC?

As I thought about where to attend graduate school for my master’s in I/O psychology, I recognized that I wanted to be “where the action is.” Somewhere large organizations were headquartered. Large organizations like Marriott, Amazon, Deloitte, or the federal government hire I/O psychologists and offer great learning opportunities for young professionals. Because I’m interested in working in the federal government, I identified Washington DC as the perfect place to end up. Being from West Michigan, I did not know much about the schools or I/O programs in the region. As I did my (extensive) research, I came across UMBC’s I/O program which is located in Rockville, MD. It offered the applied focus I was looking for and flexible class schedules in the evening so I could secure and work an internship during the day. Its proximity to DC offers numerous networking opportunities and career connections for its graduate students, which attracted me to UMBC.

What was your catalyst for applying to the program?

During the summer before my senior year of undergrad, I was preparing to apply for grad school. As I reviewed the programs I researched, UMBC was among my top choices because of my career aspirations to work in the federal government. The I/O program’s proximity to and connections within the public sector were unlike any other program, which led me to apply and later choose UMBC for my master’s education.

What were your expectations from the program?

Most of all, I expected an applied learning experience. In the classroom, I looked forward to learning about theories and research that pertained to I/O psychology and, equally important, how to apply them in an organizational setting. I expected to hear from highly skilled professionals in the field, whether they were my professors, advisors, or guest speakers. I also expected to network with like-minded classmates who shared career ambitions similar to mine. Being in a niche field, it’s sometimes nice to be surrounded by people who geek out over the same things as you. Finally, I expected the program to have a strong network for careers and internships. This proved especially useful for me as I came from out-of-state and had no personal connections to leverage upon moving to the DMV area.

What was your biggest fear in starting a master’s program and how has that changed now that you’re enrolled?

My biggest fear had less to do with the master’s program and more to do with the process to get there. Starting graduate school essentially required me to click the Reset button on life. I moved to the area one month before school started in the fall. I knew absolutely no one. I had no job. I had never even visited the region before. I don’t think I stand alone in thinking these prospects would scare almost anyone. That said, moving to Maryland to start my master’s education at UMBC was perhaps one of the best things that could’ve happened for me. Having no job forced me to apply for internships before I even moved to the region. I secured one immediately. Knowing no one in the area forced me to meet new people through school and also through my internship. I quickly built a professional and personal network. The location of UMBC at Shady Grove allowed me to explore DC in my spare time. I immediately fell in love with the city. 

Are your fellow classmates working professionals, bringing valuable experience to the classroom?

My fellow classmates are diverse in their educational backgrounds, aspirations, and career paths, which makes the learning experience in the classroom especially rich. Coursework often requires that we leverage our professional experiences to apply theories and research. Everyone offers their unique perspective that is paved through their career experience. I have learned to apply I/O psychology to distinct fields like health care and law enforcement which I never even thought of before. In addition, the program often encourages collaborative work through projects, so we get to work with each other constantly, leveraging each others’ skills to accomplish assignments.

How do your fellow students encourage you?

Being surrounded by like-minded classmates who have bold career ambitions encourages me to make my own aspirations a reality. Though most of my classmates do not share similar career interests, I still feed off of their positive energy to use our graduate-level knowledge of I/O psychology and make a difference in the professional world. 

How do faculty members encourage you?

Taking courses taught by faculty who are successful I/O professionals reassures me that I chose a field where I will be able to make meaningful contributions in the organizations I work for. Listening to the work they’ve done throughout their careers gives me hope that I can accomplish similar goals in my own capacity. The I/O faculty are also incredible resources for information pertaining to internships, networking, and field information. Their guidance has encouraged me to be proactive in seeking out information that goes beyond the scope of our courses. This ultimately improves my education experience.

What advice would you give to someone going to college and working full time?

I speak to this question as someone who did this, myself. 

  1. It’s only temporary. While juggling school, work, and personal life often feels overwhelming at the moment, the skills and experiences you obtain by enduring the pressure for a couple of short years are worth it. I never felt busier than I did while attending classes and working full-time. But I also never felt more productive than I did during that time. In and of itself, juggling all these commitments is a strangely rewarding learning experience. It tested my limits but also taught me more about myself.
  2. Go at your own pace. One of the great features of the I/O program at UMBC is its flexibility to take courses based on your own schedule. Want to attend classes full-time?  Go for it. Think that’s too much given your other responsibilities? That’s okay. Take one or two courses at a time. Take a course during the summer so you have a lighter Spring Semester. This program is designed for professionals who are not coming into the program immediately from undergrad. The faculty, being working professionals,  understand that life happens, work responsibilities are real, and that family commitments are part of the experience. 
  3. If you’re going to work full-time, try to make time for internships. I understand not everyone can quit their job to pursue a part-time internship (or two) so this isn’t always feasible. But for those who can, seriously consider it because the learning experience is just as good as, and in some ways better than, the classroom. If you’re looking to make a career change, this is a great opportunity to get a foot in a new door. Most organizations do not allow people to work an internship unless they are a student, so while you’re a graduate student is the perfect opportunity to try one out. For me, internships have allowed me to learn what sub-areas of I/O psychology are interesting to me and which ones I do not want to pursue in my career. It is better to learn this while you are in school than after you start a full-time job and realize you cannot stand the work you’re doing. 

Can you talk about your experience with the Practicum? 

The Practicum was a meaningful opportunity to learn how to conduct a job analysis, a core skill within I/O psychology. This was especially valuable to me because I did not have the bandwidth to take the Job Analysis course offered by the program simply due to scheduling logistics and timing. The Practicum was more flexible to fit with my schedule. Being compensated for the work I did throughout the experience was also a plus. I didn’t have to make temporary changes to my budget by working the practicum two days per week. 

What did you get out of it professionally (that you would not be able to get in the classroom)?

The Practicum provided me with a professional network that I can leverage once I graduate with my master’s degree. My colleagues were highly skilled and knowledgeable about I/O psychology so being able to learn from them and make strong professional connections with them while in school is highly valuable when it comes time for me to start my full-time career. In addition, with my Practicum being hosted in a global organization, I was able to learn about organizational dynamics. How does an HR professional navigate this dynamic space? Learning how to strategically communicate in the organization was highly valuable and a skill I can take with me no matter where I work. 

What do you find most engaging and helpful to your development?

The most engaging work I did involved visualizing data to report out to organizational stakeholders. Being able to display complex information to others is a skill I found interesting and meaningful to my development. In addition, working with a variety of employees from across the enterprise opened my eyes to the variety of careers within human resources (HR) that I/O psychology resides. I recognized where my skills could fit in. Before the Practicum, I had difficulty articulating what exactly an I/O psychologist does in an organization. Now I more clearly see its place in organizational development, assessment development, diversity and inclusion, talent development, change management, workforce planning, and other disciplines. 

What was your big takeaway?

My biggest takeaway from the Practicum was gaining an awareness of where to take my career within I/O psychology. The hands-on experience conducting job analysis and competency modeling paired with witnessing other HR functions has helped me understand my professional interests and how I can use my skills to improve an organization’s effectiveness. To me, the applied nature of the Practicum enabled me to learn this about myself and the profession. In addition, being able to speak to seasoned professionals gave me a broader understanding of fields I had never even conceived before. Concepts like change management and organizational development were foreign to me before this experience. Now, I can articulate the value of these disciplines and also identify where I/O psychology fits in the space. 

Did you have an ah-ha moment where a lightbulb went off?

As I spoke to colleagues in the areas of leadership development and diversity and inclusion, I quickly recognized that I wanted to work in a similar capacity. The passion these professionals carried made me instantly appreciate the value that these disciplines bring to an organization. For this reason, my ah-ha moment was realizing this was what I wanted to do with my career. It was an incredibly refreshing experience. 

Was there anything you wished you could’ve known before taking it that would’ve made your experience even better?

No, I believe I was briefed on as much information as could be expected. Though there was some ambiguity in work expectations along the way, I think those instances offer meaningful learning opportunities for a student in the Practicum. Not knowing the full scope of a project or expectations is an inherent aspect of work. Learning how to navigate the experience through this structured and guided Practicum is highly valuable. 

How has the practicum class changed or enlightened your perspective on business?

The Practicum provided me with a deeper appreciation for bureaucracy, especially in large organizations. Learning why the “red tape” exists and how to navigate it is incredibly important. It relates to organizational structure, culture, and historic functions of the organization. As I/O psychologists, it’s our dual job to navigate the often-difficult space and change the process when it depletes the workforce’s efficiency. Both roles are complex and ambiguous but, to me, that is what makes the field enticing. I want to tackle complex structural problems as a means to enable the organization to fulfill its mission.

Can you think of anything else to add that you believe prospective students would want to know?

Leverage the graduate school experience, practicum, and internships to build a professional network. It is critical to make connections, especially if you’re like me, coming into the full-time workforce for the first time upon graduation. While the skills you obtain in I/O psychology are crucial, often the people you know are just as important when you are job searching. Beyond that, these professionals (classmates, professors, supervisors, advisors, etc.) might be able to write you letters of recommendation, act as a reference, or serve as a valuable resource on a topic you want to learn more about. Be intentional about keeping in contact during and after you complete your master’s education. 

If you’d like to learn more about the IO Psychology Graduate Program at UMBC, come visit us today!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *