Extern Program: Tips for Alumni

Tips for Workplace Sponsors

Many alumni tell us that they need guidance on how to be an effective workplace sponsor for an extern student. Here you will find some information on how to develop a week of activities for your extern, a timeline to give you a sense of what happens when and example schedules from alumni who have sponsored externs in the past.

An externship is a one-week unpaid job shadowing experience designed to offer a glimpse of a career. Swarthmore alumni, parents of students and friends of the College offer assignments in many environments. You can sponsor an extern student from virtually any work environment: a laboratory, museum, office, art gallery, theater, environmental interest group, publishing company, labor union, economic think tank. Extern Week always runs the last week of Winter Break. Many of our externships are clustered in particular cities because we have homestay volunteers and alumni coordinators to assist us in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Seattle. We welcome externships in other cities - you have a better chance of sponsoring a student in another city if you can also provide housing, either in your home or coordinate, for example, with a neighbor or fellow Swarthmore alum.

It's easy to be a great extern sponsor. Student externs want to learn about career options and what life in the working world might be like. That's something about which you know a lot. Your experience in and insight about your career field and workplace is very valuable.

Think about what you do in your career: We all have many, varied responsibilities and opportunities in different areas. We also have relationships with other individuals and organizations that will be of interest to Swarthmore students. Thinking broadly and precisely about what your work is like and describing it clearly on your registration form will help you plan a valuable externship and increase the likelihood that you will have a motivated extern.

There are many activities you can arrange for an extern: The extern "shadows" his or her sponsor and/or works on a specific, but limited, project. While clerical work is ok, it should not dominate the week. An extern does not have to spend the entire week with you. In fact, we encourage you to have the student spend time with your colleagues both in your organization and, if appropriate, with other organizations. You also can share an extern with another Swarthmore alum or colleague in the same field. Other ideas include: going to meetings with you, arranging lunches with you and/or your colleagues, assigning a short research project, and giving the student background information on your career and organization. An afternoon off to sightsee also is appropriate and often appreciated.

Tips for Alumni Homestay Hosts

Being a homestay host is an incredibly helpful way that you can contribute to the Extern Program. We understand that many alumni are interested in participating in the Extern Program, but do not work in environments conducive to being workplace sponsors. We depend on alumni homestays for students who wish to accept externships away from home.

What should you expect? Extern students typically arrive at their homestay on the Sunday afternoon preceding Extern Week and depart on Friday after their externship is complete. In some cases, they may need assistance getting to and from a train station or airport. Alumni choose to host students in the ways that work best for their lifestyles. For example, a busy, young professional may lend the student a key, offer a futon for a bed and invite the extern to share the fridge. A family with children may have an extra room and bath to share and might invite the extern to take meals with them or share in family time.

A good homestay experience starts with clear communication. The most important aspects of being a good homestay host are providing a clean bed and linens and being clear about your expectations. Many homestay hosts provide food and meals for their extern student. You may want to clarify with the student if s/he has any allergies. If you expect the extern to pitch in money for food or to assist with making of meals, be clear about that. If the extern's bed is in a common area, talk ahead of time about how the family uses that space and what measure of privacy can be afforded the extern. You and your extern should compare schedules so that you know what hours you each will be coming and going and what, if any, plans are for meals. Many times students are accustomed to cultural norms different from those in the U.S. or those of their homestay host. Again, clear communication about expectations in your home is key!

Past to Present. Your extern is a link to your College life. Talk with your student to find out what's new on Swarthmore's campus. Share your experience and compare notes. Who won the Crum Regatta? Do students still do the ‘primal scream'? What's the longest class discussion through which you ever sat? And remember, though you may choose not to be a workplace sponsor, you still have an excellent opportunity to share your life experience with a student who is just beginning his or hers.