Externships: A Glimpse At Your Future
This winter, four dozen Fords shadowed Bi-Co alumni at work as part of the College's long-running externship program, which gives students a firsthand peek at potential career options.
For more than 40 years, Haverford College’s Center for Career and Professional Advising has run an externship program that connects current Haverford students with a wide network of alumni for a non-time-consuming way to get a firsthand look at professional field of interest. Every winter and spring break, students may devote a anywhere from a few days to two weeks of their vacation to shadow Bi-College alumni of all different occupations—from medicine to the arts, business to law—at their place of work.
Director of Career Services Amy Feifer, who co-directs the program, believes externships are successful because they provide students with the kind of hands-on, personal job experience that is not accessible in a classroom setting. “The program offers students a deeper look at a potential field of interest,” she said. Not only do those students gain direct work exposure through the brief externships—most of which last around four days—but they also often receive valuable advice and guidance from the alumni and other professionals in the workplace.
This past winter break, more than 40 Haverford students shadowed alumni around the country. One of those students was Maurice Rippel ‘19, who spent a week at the Lawyers Alliance for New York, a nonprofit that connects organizations serving low-income communities with business and transactional lawyers who work pro bono. Rippel shadowed Victoria Gaffney '12, a pro bono associate who works in relationship management. During his externship, he helped her organize ongoing cases and got insight into the process by which the Alliance identifies reliable corporations to support, and evaluates opportunities for potential new relationships with organizations.
Gaffney, who like Rippel majored in English at Haverford, got a lot out of playing host, including discussing Rippel’s spring semester classes—one of which she herself took when she was a sophomore. “Hosting a fellow Ford who is beginning to explore his career interests has reinforced how important Haverford has been for me,” she said. “It has reminded me of how grateful I am for my four short years in its remarkably supportive and engaging environment.”
Although Rippel was assigned projects to work on independently, Gaffney also strongly encouraged him to get a feel of the office and become acquainted with other employees. One such employee was a senior staff attorney who told him over coffee about how law can be applicable to after-school programs in low-income areas. That conversation shed new light on how Rippel's interests—law and education—can intersect. “I’m minoring in education, and now I understand how versatile a law degree can be,” he said. “I was on the fence about going to law school, but now I feel more compelled to.”
Rippel wasn’t the only student who made valuable connections through his recent externship. Charlotte Eisenberg ’19 travelled all the way from her hometown of Peaks Island, Maine, to Washington D.C for a week-long externship at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with Debby Prigal BMC '81, who works as a statistician for the component of the Department of Homeland Security. Not only did Prigal play host in her workplace, but she also welcomed Eisenberg into her home. (Roughly one third of alumni collaborating with the CCPA provide housing for their visiting students.)
Eisenberg learned about how Prigal attempts to model, a year in advance, the number of workers that will be needed in USCIS field offices across the nation. The process involves looking back at old records and estimating how many people will apply for green cards, residence permits, and other services in the future, in order to evaluate how many employees need to be hired to process those requests. “As a math major, it was interesting to see how important the role of statistics is in governmental work,” said Eisenberg.
During her week in the office, Eisenberg met dozens of workers in charge of putting together statistical databases for all different fields, from education to health. “I realized the importance of reliable statistics being accessible to a larger public,” she said. “I also learned a lot about the benefits of government jobs.”
Prigal, who herself partook in the externship program as a student in 1979, has been hosting externs for over 30 years. She believes it is an invaluable opportunity for young people to get a sense of the working world before they enter it. “Especially now as paid internships and entry-level jobs are harder and harder to find, it is even more important that students take advantage of all opportunities they have,” she said. “I have had a couple of students find permanent jobs or summer internships from contacts they have made during their externships.”
Other fruitful externships included that of senior Jenny Ahn, who visited Simon & Schuster in New York City for two days. Ahn shadowed Lisa Healy BMC '73, the publisher’s senior production editor, who also teaches publishing courses as an adjunct faculty member at the City College of New York. Ahn participated in the CCPA’s externship program twice before and even spent a previous externship in publishing, shadowing an alum at Perseus Books. But this year got an even deeper look at the industry. “Perseus Books is a smaller publishing house,” she said. “So this time, I had the opportunity to experience a large publishing house, and learn about various imprints.”
Under Healy’s guidance, Ahn learned how books are carefully checked and proof-read before being published and gained a better understanding of responsibilities of different roles in the industry (e.g. literary agents, acquiring editors and production editors). “The externship helped enrich my future plans,” she affirmed.
Many Fords are interested in career in medicine, and roughly one quarter of the students who participated in the externship program over winter break shadowed professionals in the health care field. Jimmy Wu '19 shadowed Ruth Kanost BMC '78, who works for Cognitive Behavioral Services, a medical practice in Northern Philadelphia. Wu describes the clinic, where he assisted Kanost periodically over the course of two weeks, as a small operation serving a low-income community. Kanost offers individual and family therapy and is particularly involved with trauma survivors. Wu was particularly struck by how busy the office was and said his experience helped him realize the urgent need that exists for clinics supporting economically disadvantaged communities. “My externship made me reevaluate what it means to have a ‘good job,’” he said. “I realized that fulfillment from your work is attained when your interests and abilities are meeting the needs of society.”
Kanost’s positive attitude also stood out to Wu, who observed that the alumna would readily see patients without charge. Likewise, the host doctor, who has participated in the Bi-Co extern program for the past several years, was impressed by the way Wu conducted himself at her practice. "Working with Jimmy Wu was great," she said. “He had an openness to new people of all kinds… During a session that I had with a 12-year-old girl, we opted to play a game in which we took turns answering questions about ourselves, and he showed excellent judgment in telling stories that were vulnerable but not overwhelming.”
The winter break externships were a great success, and the CCPA is now working hard to pair interested students with alumni hosts for the upcoming spring break. Although the program attracts hundreds of students every academic year, the CCPA's Feifer hopes that in the future even more Fords will take advantage of this unique opportunity before they graduate and enter the professional world.
-Tania Bagan '18