Guided Learning Towards a Future Career

By Yutong Shi*

I am inspired after taking POLSCI 219 in my freshman year, by the way that Prof. Thaler guided students to think deeply about career preparation. This course focuses on how beginners in law study approach legal issues properly, how to think as a law professional, and what to prepare for being an attorney. The course balances well between career skills and academic requirements, which enables students to explore and ponder over career choices (Freeman, 2012). 

Professor Jeff Thaler
Professor Jeff Thaler

Professor Jeffrey Thaler is a visiting professor at Duke and DKU. He teaches POLSCI 219/PUBPOL 219 at DKU as an introductory course for undergraduate students interested in the U.S. legal system. This course complements DKU’s course diversity and extends the range of study fields in undergraduate studies. It was his first time teaching undergraduate courses at DKU in session 4 in 2021, and he will offer the course again in the second term of Spring 2022. 

The course is comprehensive and friendly to novice learners in public policy and law study; indeed, it is designed not only for those pursuing law school but for non-majors enthusiastic about society development and policymaking. In this course, Prof. Thaler introduced several branches and roles in the law system to provide a big picture and explained the basic knowledge about the U.S. law system in particular. Using classic cases in history and the comparison among different law systems, he guided students to comprehend and apply law knowledge step by step. He made great efforts to design the course as a good guide for law and public policy study and a professional platform to spread the law spirit, as well as to prepare students for their future careers.

Small Presentation: Develop Student Skills for Future Career 

Prof. Thaler has explained his philosophy that for students the small presentation is rather less demanding than deep thinking and reflection of understanding materials. The presentations allow non-native English speakers to speak English more and practice presentation skills at the same time, thereby enhancing students’ confidence. Lawyers, non-lawyer advocates, and presenters indeed need to have an outstanding ability to make a presentation and persuade the audience. We develop these skills through repeated exercises of using appropriate language, eye contact, and body language. When designing the course, Prof. Thaler takes into consideration the practical needs of every student’s career goals, which has increased students’ intrinsic motivation to explore further connections with their future careers (Husman et al., 2016). 

The Moot Court: Make Real-World Connections to Course Materials 

To prepare students for their future careers, especially in law or public policy, Prof. Thaler designed another activity, the Moot Court, to help students apply knowledge in the real-world setting. Students were randomly divided into two sides, representing different clients or authorities in an authentic debate. When preparing for and participating in the moot court, I truly enjoyed it and even felt like a real attorney dealing with climate policies, accusation of stealing, and trade conflicts. 

As a student, I can see the beauty of the Moot Court. Normal debates require ideas and concepts while this activity needs application and interpretation of abstract law terms to real facts and issues. Because the materials of class discussions are all from current events and conflicts, students can contextualize abstract ideas and apply societal norms through the argument session. In this course, Professor Thaler also invited his former students who are now Chinese lawyers and teachers as guest speakers, so that we could have more direct interactions with professionals.

Professor Thaler’s teaching and guidance in the law field were quite impressive and inspiring. With his intentional design of this course, I got chances to approach law cases in various law systems, develop presentation and critical thinking skills for my future career, and make real-world connections through activities like the Moot Court debates and guest talks. 


Freeman, E. (2012). The design and implementation of a career orientation course for undergraduate majors. College Teaching60(4), 154-163.

Husman, J., Hilpert, J. C., & Brem, S. K. (2016). Future time perspective connectedness to a career: The           contextual effects of classroom knowledge building. PsychologicaBelgica, 56(3), 210-                      225.

About Professor Jeff Thaler

Jeff Thaler is one of America’s leading environmental and energy lawyers and professors. He served on campus at Duke Kunshan in Fall 2019 as a Fulbright Specialist, co-teaching an international environmental policy course in the iMEP program, and now is teaching DKU undergraduates in an interactive manner about the U.S. Legal System. He also has been a Professor of Practice at Maine Law School for over a decade, as well as being an active attorney on energy, climate, environmental, and general litigation matters.  To see his bio here.

*About the author

Yutong Shi, Class of 2024, is majoring in Cultures and Movements/Cultural Anthropology. She works as a student partner in the Center for Teaching and Learning at DKU for one year. She is passionate about doing fieldwork, talking with people, and exploring new fields. She plans to pursue journalism as her future career.