Over winter break, the College community celebrated Extern Week—an opportunity for students to shadow mentors in fields of their interest, gleaning insights, developing skills, and strengthening intergenerational bonds at Swarthmore.
Administered by Career Services, this year’s program matched 200 students with alumni, parents, and friends of the College. Some of them reflect on their experiences below.
Dylan Clairmont ’21, of Ashburn, Va., shadowed American civil rights activist, feminist, and political strategist Heather Booth in Washington, D.C. Booth continued the extern program legacy of her husband, Paul Booth ’64, the iconic union organizer and activist, who died last year.
“Going into Extern Week, I was a bit terrified. I was staying with Heather Booth, a figure who was crucial in the civil rights and women’s movements in the ’60s, the founder of Jane Collective and Midwest Academy, and had an entire film about her life! With that being said, I quickly realized I was in for a real treat. The second night I was in D.C., I was able to go to an exclusive March For Our Lives reception, where I was able to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi give a speech and had David Hogg and other Parkland students just feet away from me the entire night, engaged in casual conversation.
“Beyond that night, I was able to shadow partners from a progressive consulting firm at Democracy Partners, visit the Institute for Policy Studies, meet with Stephen Miles from Win Without War, and ultimately get a great sense of the direction that my life could end up going in post-graduation. I am forever grateful for my experience."
Zhicheng “John” Fan ’19, an honors mathematics and philosophy major from Shanghai, China, shadowed Jamil Dakwar P'22, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program in New York.
“I learned quite a lot from my experience. One of the best things was that it helped me better understand the rewards and excitement of nonprofit work, especially since I am deciding what to do after Swarthmore and law school. Before the externship, I was already familiar with the work done by the ACLU, but the internal perspective is quite different—I met lawyers and other people who are genuinely interested in making a change using their education and who work hard to protect civil liberties such as free speech and right to privacy. It was incredibly rewarding to talk to lawyers who were once in my own shoes and ask them questions about the challenges and perhaps the opportunity cost of choosing a nonprofit career.”
Mentor Dawn Porter '88, documentary filmmaker and founder of Trilogy Films in San Francisco, Calif., hosted Magda Werkmeister '22, of Olathe, Kan., as well as two students from the University of California-Berkeley.
"They all made the most of their time in San Francisco, working and making time on their own to see the city. I loved seeing the world through their eyes. All possibilities and new adventures. Magda eagerly screened archive footage and accompanied me and my Berkeley students to an avant garde Chinese documentary. I've already offered her an internship next summer, and I'd love to have any of them stay with us whenever they return. It meant a lot to be able to have this connection to the beloved College."
Alice Huang ’22, of Chicago, Ill., shadowed attorney Tim Berger ’88 of Paul, Flandreau & Berger LLP, in Media, Pa.
“My externship has been one of my most memorable experiences. I began with barely any idea of what law school or the day-to-day practice is like, but I’ve come out feeling much more familiar with all the legal jargon and demands of Tim’s work. Though it was definitely exciting to attend a Social Security disability hearing and a medical deposition, my favorite aspect of the experience was just spending time with Tim and his colleagues and hearing their ideas. Tim’s insistence that ‘being a lawyer doesn’t make you better than anyone else’ and his ability to talk to all kinds of people has made the law much more real for me. He’s shown me the emotional side. Beyond learning about Tim’s work, I found it really fun to connect with someone similarly enthusiastic about Swarthmore. Our shared interest in cooking and Tim’s elaborate ideas for dishes to make in a dorm kitchen always made me laugh.”
Mentor Grant Torre ’17, creative executive at Stampede Ventures in Los Angeles, Calif., hosted Cristopher Alvarado ’21, of Charlotte, N.C., and Naomi Park ’21, of Flushing, N.Y.
“While working at a film and television media company is vastly different in many ways from being a student at Swarthmore, Cristopher and Naomi eagerly dived in and were excited to learn about the path to develop and produce content in today’s changing media landscape. They brought the signature Swattie curiosity to the workplace and created a full pitch for a contemporary film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray—which Naomi just studied in a class with [Associate Professor of English Literature] Eric Song! Both externs really impressed as they connected the dots between the classroom at Swarthmore to real opportunities within the entertainment industry.”
Lucy Fetterman ’22, of New York, N.Y., shadowed Leslie Abbey ’90, chief operating officer of Covenant House New York.
“I hadn’t thought about nonprofit work and governmental agencies working together; if anything, I thought of them as opposing forces due to the way that media has portrayed their relationship in the past few years. But through my externship, I learned that funding from the government as well as the work of different government agencies is inextricably linked to the work that Covenant House does to keep homeless youth safe in the face of crisis, due to its direct interactions with vulnerable individuals. I began to understand how nuanced and multifaceted the relationship between Covenant House and the government is, and on a bigger scale, the relationship between the government and nonprofits in general.
“As a prospective peace & conflict studies major, this experience opened my eyes to government work in the context of nonprofits, as well as the importance of providing direct care to individuals and communities who may not be able to access the resources available to them.”
Alaina Chen ’21, of Carson City, Nev., shadowed Sue Levin ’85, chief commercial officer for Bolt Threads in Portland, Ore.
"The first night at Sue’s house, we sat together and leafed through the pages of her yearbook. Before me, she painted a picture of a Swarthmore I could only imagine, one vaguely familiar but different from my own. Sue recalled the commotion when the old gym burned down and the controversial existence of the Swarthmore football team. She pointed out friends and teammates she kept in touch with and reminisced about moments with those she had forgotten. Despite the unfamiliar faces, we found common ground in our shared Willets experiences, enthusiasm about classes, and stories about the timeless 'Swarthmore student.' But most intriguing of all was Sue’s path after Swarthmore, which led her to her current with the up-and-coming biotech company Bolt Threads."
Mentor James Maiolo ’03, principal software engineering manager at Microsoft in Seattle, Wash., hosted Bashar Abu Ein ’21, of Hadera, Israel, and Yue Peng ’21, of Little Neck, N.Y.
“This is my fourth year as a mentor and home-stay host for the extern program, and yet every year I’m surprised by how much my ordinary life can impact my externs. I love the little moments when they ask a question and I can say, ‘Aha! Here’s something that was difficult for me to learn. Maybe I can teach you something now that will smooth the path a little bit for you.’ I also love seeing what excites them—it’s a great chance for me to connect with the next generation and get a sneak peak of where the future is going. I look forward to participating in the program for many years to come."
Christopher Gaeta ’22, a of Lincroft, N.J., shadowed David Eldridge ’90, associate director of individual giving at Swarthmore.
“I am grateful to have had the chance to interact with and learn from our alumni relations, communications, and advancement team at the College. I was afforded the opportunity to shadow individual giving officers and partake in department meetings. From my first roundtable discussion on Monday, I saw a remarkable parallel in which the advancement and individual giving staff echoed a clear passion to embrace our community's fundamental principles of inclusion and intellectual inquiry. I would like to thank the entire staff's willingness to involve me with their past work or discuss current projects. I am particularly grateful that David Eldridge ’90 initiated the externship and offered this transformative experience that will impact my future understanding of leadership coupled with the authentic passion for teaching that he continually portrayed.”
Tiauna Lewis ’19, a history major from Denton, Neb., shadowed Kara Bledsoe ’16, research analyst for AEA Consulting in New York.
“My week at AEA Consulting was an incredible learning experience! My host, Kara Bledsoe ’16, created an entire curriculum for me to learn about the arts consulting industry. A panel of her colleagues shared their post-undergrad experiences. As a graduating senior, I was happy to hear from so many people about how they went from seniors in college to working as analysts and consultants at the firm. It calmed my worries to see people with questions and passions who found careers that added value to their lives.”