Exploring Career Paths
Alumni-sponsored externships offer students a glimpse of the professional world beyond college.
As graduation approached, Joe Stern ’92 remembers “waving my hands a lot and feeling tremendous employment anxiety. ... It didn’t seem like the private sector was snapping up history majors.”
Still, thanks to “some lucky breaks and late-developing maturity,” he found his path in the information technologarena—first in software, then as a network manager at NAXION, a research and consulting firm. A few years later, when the College asked Stern if he’d be interested in hosting a current student as part of its more-than-40-year-old externship program, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I saw it as my chance to help some modern version of the student I was in 1992,” says Stern, now NAXION’s IT director and an extern partner since 2000. “I imagined myself putting my arm around the shoulder of a terrified humanities major and pointing excitedly to the sky, describing in a consoling voice all the open doors out there, waiting after graduation.”
During the 2018–19 academic year, 87 Haverford students took part in the externship program, shadowing Bi-College alumni in workplaces around the country and getting up-close looks at the real-world workforce. They were hosted by 70 Haverford and 48 Bryn Mawr alumni, parents, and friends.
The externships take place during the College’s winter and spring breaks, and can range from one day to one week. This year, students’ experiences included learning about equine medicine practices in Maryland and general animal care in Malvern; getting behind the scenes at a Manhattan art gallery founded in 1885 and an Alaska museum featuring native Tlingit culture; exploring the field of education at a maritime charter school in Rhode Island and a liberal arts college prep in Washington, D.C.; getting a glimpse of the variety of legal careers at private law firms and public service law agencies in Brooklyn and Philadelphia; and experiencing different facets of the health industry at medical research facilities, hospitals, and health care agencies throughout the country.
How the program benefits students is clear.
“For liberal arts students, it’s incredibly helpful to shadow someone from the same type of educational background, and witness how alumni transfer their academic skills to the workplace,” says Jennifer Barr, director of Career Engagement and Initiatives, which is part of the College’s Center for Career and Professional Advising.
“We’ve had externs work on documentary movie sets, and others observe complex medical operations, so a good experience will definitely mean different things to different people,” Barr says. “Either way, seeing the day-to-day realities of the workplace can be very exciting.”
Stern enjoys introducing externs to his colleagues, including those who may not have followed a traditional path to their current vocation.
“The externs get to hear, in many varied and interesting ways, practical information about how people get employed and the different backgrounds they brought with them,” he says. “If my extern is an art history major, I will be sure to introduce her to my colleagues who also majored in art history and are now working in business.”
Program participants like Alexander Venturini ’21 say talking to people working in their fields of interest gives insight and inspiration.
“One thing my sponsor told me that stuck with me was to think about not only the field of work that interests you, but also the type of work,” says Venturini, who explored the legal field with Liz Guggeheimer P’16 at the Lawyers Alliance for New York. “Although I know I’m interested in law, the type of work isn’tsomething I’ve considered much before.”
For participating alumni, the Externship Program offers many rewards.
“I wanted to give back,” says Danny Karpf ’92, head of school at Rodeph Sholom School in New York City, who has welcomed externs for more than 25 years. “It’s always fun to get to know different people and to introduce them to something you love.”
Besides giving students a chance “to see what real professions are like as opposed to just hearing about them,” it also gives Karpf the opportunity to assess his own work.
“Whether it’s my practices as a teacher or as a leader, it’s good to have outside eyes to find out what they see and what questions they have,” he says. “Just answering the questions about why we do what we do is a valuable and reflective practice.”
Catherine Monte ’87, chief knowledge and innovation officer at the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP, says that, like Stern, she was unsure what to do after graduation. She began hosting externs 15 years ago to help students who are similarly searching.
“It’s to help them think outside the box,” Monte says. “Working in a law firm can mean many different things. I can say, ‘Here are 10 things you haven’t considered before.’ If you’re interested in tech or research, there are multiple options to think about.”
May Mon Post ’95 knows the program’s value firsthand: She had externships as a student, shadowing lawyers in various practices in different cities.
“Those externship opportunities helped me learn about the professional world beyond college and confirmed that I wanted to pursue a career in the legal field,” she says. “Sometimes you can’t pay it back—so you pay it forward. So now I host Haverford and Bryn Mawr students because I want them to have the same opportunities I had.”
Post, lead employment attorney with CHUBB Insurance in Philadelphia, has taken externs to depositions, court hearings, settlement conferences, and client meetings. When she has externs during quieter times, she’s made arrangements to introduce them to judges and other lawyers.
“Above all else, I offer them my time, experiences, and advice,” she says. “I listen to each and every one of these students and do my best to guide them as they
explore the legal field.”
A love of teaching and mentorship prompted Terri D’Amato ’87, a pediatric hospitalist at Lancaster General Health, to host students. Her externs do everything from routine heart and lung checks during rounds to sitting in on critical care meetings with parents.
“I like giving students the opportunity to see what it’s like being beyond medical school and residency, to see what they’re doing all that hard work for,” says D’Amato, who has taken part in the program for about 10 years. “I really like teaching, and I’m proud to be working with the younger generation from my school.”
Rich Thau ’87 is president and cofounder of Engagious, an agency that conducts and analyzes market research to help businesses develop effective messages. He began working with externs a few years after he graduated. Students who spend time at his company might find themselves preparing focus groups, analyzing data, or brainstorming sales and marketing ideas. The experience helps: Two recent externs landed market research jobs with two of the country’s preeminent firms.
“Haverford and Bryn Mawr students are a rare breed—they know this material, and can weave it into new contexts, such as the projects my firm conducts,” Thau says. “Having smart, dedicated students provide those assets to my firm is a massive plus. Externs bring new ideas, new energy, and a fresh perspective—and they make my firm look better to our clients.”
—Additional reporting by Allison Wise ’20