Making the Climb with the Sherpa Program

PROVO, Utah – Dec 26, 2019 – The frigid wind whips around the young sherpa as he guides a group of foreign climbers through the vast mountain ranges of the Himalayas, heading for the summit. Just as the sherpas in Nepal assist mountaineers, BYU Marriott’s MPA sherpa program helps first-year students on their climb through the MPA program.

Since 2015, the MPA sherpa program has encouraged its students to expand their skills and progress in their careers. Selected second-year students serve as sherpas to the first-year students, otherwise known as climbers, helping them navigate the MPA program and networking process.

Developing valuable skills through the sherpa program often leads to internships, a top priority for new MPA students. “I joke around that getting an internship is not as dangerous as hiking the Himalayas, but it can be challenging,” says Tanya Harmon, who leads BYU Marriott’s MPA career services efforts.

The MPA sherpas play a vital role in the hunt for internships, encouraging climbers in the networking process and internship search. Sherpas teach climbers how to write a résumé and cover letter, master a pitch, and answer tough interview questions. In addition, sherpas share their recent internship experiences and help climbers gear up for their own internship by providing firsthand insights.

During their time working together, second-year sherpas get to know their climbers well, allowing them to help in a personal and meaningful way. “My sherpa was a leader, example, and friend,” says 2019 MPA alum Malissa Richardson, who works at United Way of Utah County as a donor relations intern in Provo. “It was nice to have a second-year student who knew the ropes that I could always ask questions without feeling judged.”

Climbers have seen the benefit and value of working with more experienced sherpas as their specific needs have been met. “My sherpa quickly recognized my unique desire for career discussions and adapted our time based on what was helpful for me rather than focusing on a checklist,” says 2019 MPA alum Megdalynn Fisher, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Bloomington, Indiana, at Indiana University.

As sherpas, second-year students are fulfilling the mission of the BYU Marriott MPA program, which prepares leaders of exceptional capability and integrity who are committed to serving their communities. “Sherpas gain a lot from mentoring first-years,” says Harmon. “The sherpas hone in on their own skills and gain leadership experience that is important when entering the workforce.”

The sherpa program prepares both the sherpa and climber for a future in public service as they help each other reach personal peaks. “Doing well in your classes is important, but using your time in the graduate program to help navigate and even recalibrate your career is equally important,” says 2016 MPA alum Mark Ireland, who currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, working as a consultant at Deloitte. “The MPA sherpa program is the ultimate way to do this.”

MPA students during a sherpa lab. Courtesy of Bruno Santos.
MPA students during a sherpa lab. Photo courtesy of Bruno Santos.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Nikaela Smith