Following the Path
Over winter break, the College community celebrated Extern Week — an annual 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 230 students with alumni, parents, and friends of the College. Some of them reflect on their experiences below.
Mariam Bahmane ’19, an economics and engineering major from Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco, shadowed Arsean Maqami ’12, development director for oWow in the San Francisco Bay area.
Another Swattie and I were assigned to propose a real estate project in a neighborhood in Oakland that could generate attractive returns. After days of due diligence, we thought we found a unique real estate development idea, an energetic co-working space that attracts freelancers from the Bay Area to work, socialize, and network.
"Finding out there was a project similar to our own real estate idea in the exact same neighborhood was the perfect reminder that neither I nor my ideas is special. And that's OK; what separates one’s work from that of others is the quality of execution, emotional intelligence, and a bit of luck."
Cariad Chester ’13, an analyst at Aquilo Capital Management in Presidio, Calif, mentored Yichuan Yan ’20, of Beijing, China.
"While at Swarthmore, I only ever had vague notions of how my interests would evolve into a career. Through externships I participated in as a student, I saw how Swatties navigated the transition into fully functional adults (with paychecks). Having now stumbled into my own career, I was happy to be a worksite mentor. I expected to share lessons and missteps and complain about windowless McCabe, but I was surprised by Yichuan.
"He was only a sophomore, but remarkably thoughtful and mature. Despite my niche professional focus (biotech investing), he was able to make meaningful contributions to an ongoing project. He felt like a natural member of my team and I was happy to trade my professional perspective for an updated snapshot of life on campus."
Emma Walker ’20, of Kingston, Jamaica, shadowed Lisa Wildman ’84, a social worker for Diakon, whose services include helping parents keep or regain custody of their children, in Bucks County, Pa.
"Many of these families have been struck by the opioid crisis and often live in conditions of harsh poverty. I shadowed Lisa as she did visits with her clients, working with them to complete goals that would help keep their families together such as acquiring housing, staying sober, and taking care of their health.
"Talking with a parent who had overcome addiction about her life and her love for her children helped me to discover the necessity of working directly with people who are affected by policy. Wherever my future career takes me, whether that be journalism, non-profit work, or research, I know connecting with individuals is always invaluable."
Sonal Bhatia ’02, a trial lawyer for employees' rights at Keenan & Bhatia, LLC, in New York, N.Y., mentored Julia Gokhberg '19.
"Our extern inspired us! In a time when employee-rights (civil rights) laws are under attack, teaching such a bright, talented, and passionate young person reminded us that people will join this struggle and continue the fight against forced employment arbitration and discrimination in the workplace. Julia provided us with fresh perspectives. She helped us brainstorm the practical arguments we needed to make in an issue about imaging of a client's cell phone. She came up with the key argument in that discovery motion, based on her sense of balancing the practical and theoretical.
"Julia also combed through a recent Supreme Court decision and found us the relevant quotes describing the invasion of privacy that would occur if our client's cell phone is imaged. She created a comprehensive timeline for a disability discrimination case, which made it clearer and more concise for us."
Jake Chanenson ’21, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., shadowed Stephen Schwartz ’84, CEO of Lion, Inc., which provides equipment and services to fire and law enforcement officials, in Dayton, Ohio.
"I was incredibly fortunate to land an externship that allowed me to explore a plethora of career paths (also shadowing a chief information officer and research and development employees and talking with business analysts and cyber security staff). One of my favorite moments from the externship was when the chief information officer explained corporate information technology to me in terms of Star Wars. It was funny, informative, and a presentation that I'll never forget."
Shirline Wee ’20, of Cerritos, Calif., shadowed ophthalmologist Eliot Siegel, father of a Swarthmore sophomore, in Santa Monica, Calif.
"This was an amazing opportunity for me to explore and gain exposure to a different field in medicine. Dr. Siegel provided a lot of advice and showed me the joys of interacting with patients in a clinical setting as well as the many complexities of the eye. It was fascinating to learn how such a small organ plays such a vital role in life and the many diseases and problems associated with the eye.
"I also learned so much from the patients themselves, on subjects ranging from philosophy to economics to politics. But the most exciting part for me was that I was able to scrub into the operating room for the first time and observe cataract surgeries. In that short week, I was greatly encouraged to continue in my passion for a career as a physician."
Bret Serbin ’18, an English Literature major from Sewickley, Pa., shadowed Will Saletan ’87, a national correspondent for Slate.
"The best part about my internship was my mentor. Will gave really candid, honest, and concrete advice about starting a career in journalism. He was really up front about the state of the industry and the ins and outs of getting started. It was also cool for us externs [including Katie Paulson ’18, an Honors English literature major from Madison, Wisc., and Bobby Zipp ’18, an Honors English literature and political science and educational studies special major from Dover, Del.] to see our names in print on the Slate website for the article we did a lot of research for and helped draft."
Steve Dean ’11, an online dating consultant and speaker for Dateworking based in New York City, mentored Austin Chang '20, Jake Ross '20, Julian Bueno '21, and Dimitri Kondelis '20.
"I had the privilege to show the students my strange and colorful life in the startup and creative sectors of New York City. We toured tiny private offices, large and small scale coworking spaces, coffee shops lined wall to wall with entrepreneurs, and massive corporate behemoths with over 50,000 employees. The students also got to witness their first-ever online dating consultation, and we rounded out the week with a meetup with a corporate shaman who specializes in teaching empathy (yes, an actual career!).
"My favorite parts of the experience were the chilly walks we took from place to place, because the students each took moments to walk alongside me asking burning questions about post-college networking, the power of social capital, how to build close-knit communities, and more."
Amy Lansky ’87, a health scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., mentored Christina Labows '18 and Jason Manning '18.
"Our week was designed to give the two externs a broad overview of the CDC by meeting with eight alums working in various roles and parts of the agency. On Wednesday, the externs suddenly had the opportunity to experience, firsthand, part of CDC’s continuity of operations plans as the agency was closed for the next two days due to snow and ice in Atlanta. During the meetings, alums described their career paths (“unexpected” and a balance among “drive to make a difference in the world, academic interests, and personal life”) and answered questions about how to find data, tools, research and experts (at CDC and elsewhere).
"Discussions covered disease outbreaks, graduate school, finding employment at CDC, and federal vs. private sector work. They shared stories about professors they had in common (Barry Schwartz, Allen Schneider), even though they were 30+ class-years apart."
Sergio Rosas ’18, a history major from Saugas, Mass., shadowed Lewis Lazarus '78, partner at Morris James, in Wilmington, Del.
"The experience far exceeded all the expectations I had for the externship and for what it means to be a lawyer. Just on the first day I attended a luncheon assembly led by the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court where he addressed the ways that lawyers could improve in their profession.
"But the highlight of the week was the opportunity to sit in on a small committee meeting in which the Chief Justice was also present, to discuss strategies and initiatives for promoting access to legal counsel for those with low incomes. I learned about the willingness of these professionals to make the law more accessible to everyone — regardless of their background — and reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in law."
Bridget Scott ’18, a biology and educational studies special major from Wallingford, Pa., shadowed Matthew St. Clair ’97, director of sustainability for the University of California Office of the President.
"One of my most memorable experiences was attending a training session on designing energy efficient buildings at UC Santa Cruz. I tagged along with Matt and his colleague and energy efficiency guru Karl Brown. A design team showed how they develop plans to create energy efficient buildings that adhere to California code as well as even more ambitious targets set by the University of California system. I was excited to learn about all the work they’re doing, so I could bring new ideas back to my sustainability work at Swarthmore.
"At the end of the training, we hiked through the redwood forest at UC Santa Cruz, which was so amazing and humbling. Being among that type of natural beauty grounded my experience with the energy efficiency earlier in the day: we need more sustainability professionals and planetary healers and peacemakers (like Matt and Karl!) to preserve these types of places."