Externships: Making the Network Work
Externships connect students with alumni and parent sponsors for a week-long shadowing experience that offers first-hand insights into the world of work. Three alumni, one parent, and six students share their thoughts about their extern experiences. In describing their externships, students used words like "inspiring," "challenging," "stick-to-it-iveness," and "proud" — and saw potential for job opportunities after graduation.
"Deep reflection and a renewed connection"
Nina Livingston '88, a pediatrician and medical director of child abuse programs at Connecticut Children's Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn., sponsored Rose Pitkin '13, from West Springfield, Mass. Rose is planning to major in psychobiology.
Nina:I evaluate children with suspected abuse or neglect and work with multidisciplinary teams to coordinate investigation and services for these children. Rose observed our team, and because she was also interested in general and developmental/behavioral pediatrics, I connected her to colleagues in those specialties.
She and I had some time to talk between these experiences, and the conversation went beyond debriefing about what she'd seen to what constitutes success in college and beyond and how what happens at Swarthmore connects to life after graduation.
I expected this brief time with Rose would offer a chance to be of service to a young person on the threshold of her adult life. I did not expect to be flooded with memories of my own sophomore year, living in a Willets quad — with women who are still my best friends — and struggling to figure out who I wanted to become. The unexpected challenge of having Rose as an extern was to offer something, beyond a glimpse of my working life, that would be truly helpful to her. The experience provided me with a valuable opportunity for reflection and a renewed connection to Swarthmore.
Rose:Last fall, I stopped by Career Services to find out how to create an externship that reflected my interests. The staff was more than willing to help and sent me to the alumni database, where I found Dr. Livingston.
Dr. Livingston could not have been a better hostess. She treated me exactly as she treated the residents at the hospital, taking time to explain exactly what was going on, and she was more than willing to answer my questions. She really took the time to teach me about her job. One of the greatest experiences was being able to sit down and have lunch with an alum in my field of interest. We talked about Swarthmore, she shared some of her own experiences here, and I asked her opinion about different aspects of the College. It truly was inspiring.
Reminding the "real world" about Swarthmore
Michael Bierut, a partner in the New-York based design firm Pentagram, is the parent of Elizabeth Bierut '08. Bierut sponsored Abigail Starr '13, a sociology and anthropology major from Princeton, N.J.
Michael:Our involvement in the program started when my daughter Liz was an undergraduate. Liz was an extern with Dawn Porter '88, vice president for standards and practices at A&E network, and they have stayed in touch ever since. Liz is now a law student at Fordham University. I would say that Dawn, as much as anyone, inspired her to pursue a legal career.
I belong to an organization that asked me to design bookmarks using quotes from its deceased members on the subjects of reading, writing, and books. I was certain the quotations would be easy to find. I searched Google and came up with nothing. Just as I was ready to give up, I remembered that Abby was coming for an externship. I put her to work, and she found over 50.
Afterwards, she wrote: "I noticed that some quotes are attributed to more than one person (often the result of one mistaken attribution that was later repeated). I think it would be a good idea to verify their origin. Just e-mail me if you would like me to help." Isn't that a remarkable bit of thinking from an undergraduate? Not to mention the initiative and stick-to-it-iveness.
Obviously, externships provide Swatties with exposure to the "real world," with predictably beneficial results. But the program also serves to remind that same "real world" what extraordinary minds are being developed at a small and lovely college outside of Philadelphia.
Abby:Because I love drawing and photography, aesthetics have always played a large role in how I view the world, even while studying sociology, anthropology, and psychology. As a design firm, Pentagram plays an integral role in the construction of visual symbols that influence the way people conceive of both their own identity and the identity of the institutions with which they interact. Understanding the work at Pentagram has allowed me to have a compelling new perspective in my fields of study and has increased my interest in design exponentially.
During the course of my externship, while handling a research project and helping out with a number of projects for other designers, I read a great deal of material I would have otherwise encountered only rarely, and I learned about the practical considerations of design.
One of the most exciting experiences was sitting in on a meeting with a client and observing the process of creating an identity for an organization. The complexity of the concerns and goals in this process was incredible, and the smoothness with which the designers handled this complexity revealed how enormously talented they are. I'm very lucky to have had the privilege of spending my externship with them.
"You have to learn quickly and adjust on the fly"
Ted Chan '02 is founder and CEO of Upward Mobility, a Boston-based firm that creates innovative management education and test preparation materials. He hosted externs Hongliang (Joe) Liang '13, an engineering major and computer science minor from Madison, Conn., and Abraham Bae '11, an honors economics major and mathematics minor from Seattle, Wash.
Ted:I try to stay involved with Swarthmore, especially on the business front, where I know that students interested in my fields — entrepreneurship and consulting — sometimes need applied guidance.
We usually give externs productive assignments related to their field of interest. I asked Joe and Abe to work on a complex, one-week project that involved aggregating our sales data and doing statistical analyses to identify improvements we could make. Our company needed go through all that data in any case, and the assignment fit their backgrounds. They worked as a team with our product management associate, Samantha Tanzer '10. Joe did a great job pulling together the data, and Abe ran some really interesting analyses.
In consulting and entrepreneurship, you have to learn quickly and adjust on the fly. Swarthmore students usually do really well on that front.
Joe:Ted offered us an opportunity to see how a phone app is made and marketed. He didn't waste any time putting us to work analyzing which apps were profitable for the company, which should be improved, and which should be scrapped. We gathered a bunch of data from sales, mainly for the iPhone and Android markets, such as cost of production, number of active downloads (that is, people who downloaded the app and didn't delete it), and days on market. It involved a lot of data entry, but I did write a few programs to speed up the process. The project was intense, and I felt like I did something useful for the company in the course of one short week.
Abe:Since I've had a lot of experience with research and academia, I wanted to get a taste of the private sector and whether I might like it or not. Ted needed some statistical analysis done for his mobile app startup company. The project was self-directed and extremely open. In a way, it was like being an analyst for his company for a week. Ted was a great mentor and always helpful. I felt like I was given a lot of real responsibility, and it gave me a sense of how skills I've learned in an academic setting can be translated into the "real world."
"Build a career foundation"
Tracey Patillo '90 is director of financial planning at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Rockville, Md. Peter Owusu-Opoku '11, who completed his course work in December, joined her staff full time after an externship and three summers as an intern and now lives in Rockville. In January, with Peter's assistance, Tracey sponsored Huyue (Hoover) Long '12, a political science major and Chinese minor from New York City.
Tracey:I started my career as an intern and have always been grateful. When I reached the point where I could offer the same opportunities, I wanted to take full advantage and saw the extern program as a way to identify students who could take on a paid summer internship. Peter started as extern in 2008, when he was a freshman. My team enjoyed working with him, so we invited him for a summer internship. He proved to be a tremendous asset because he learned quickly and could run with any assignment we gave him. We had clearly identified someone special, so it was an easy decision to invite him back for the following summer. Then, we asked him back for a third summer because he had become so familiar with our work environment, our people, and our systems.
As Peter was looking at career paths after graduation, he decided that financial planning was the right fit. Hiring him as a full-time financial analyst has been one of my proudest work accomplishments.
Hoover was our extern this year, and I think his best accomplishment was securing a summer internship with us! We're looking forward to giving him challenging assignments that he can work from beginning to end.
Swarthmore's externship program expands a student's view of career choices and provides opportunities to build a career foundation. Moreover, it exposes employers to its students' talents, energy, and intellectual prowess.
Peter:I worked with Tracey as an extern, but five days was not enough to fully understand what she did. So I asked if her department offered a summer internship. She said yes, and I submitted my resume, landing it after my freshman year. It offered a window into what the world of a financial planner/analyst in a nonprofit is like. I had the chance to do some actual finance work, I learned how to maneuver my way through a financial system and an unfamiliar data base — and yes, I did some filing and paper shredding.
My most rewarding project was to figure out the cause of an internal systems error, which turned out to be a huge task. I think that accomplishment, along with the professionalism and positive work ethic I learned from Tracey and my supervisor, Brenda Jamison, are what landed me an another internship after my sophomore year.
I'd become part of the Henry Jackson family and came back for a third summer. After that, as Tracey said to me, "You didn't work here for three summers for nothing. You got a job."
In January, I was Hoover's host and "supervisor." Although I was relatively new, I got the guidance I needed from Tracey and provided him with an extern experience similar to mine.