February 4, 2004

Externships Match Alumni, Students

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What are you going to do with that Cornell degree after you graduate? What are you going to do with a major like that? Where do you see yourself next year?

These are questions which every Cornell student has heard at some point or another. One program which may offer some answers, however, is the Cornell Extern Program.

Started in 1990 as a career exploration program for students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Cornell Extern program was designed to pair students with college alums working in career fields of interest. Chrissie Schelhas-Miller, director of the Carol Tatkon Center, was the program’s first administrator. With the support of Lynn Abel and Glenn Altschuler, former associate deans of the College of Arts and Sciences, the program was piloted with 50 students.

Today, Nancy Law ’84, assistant director of employer relations and alumni volunteer programs, administers the program. It has grown to include students from a wide range of majors and career interests, including those outside of the College of Arts and Sciences. Of the 475 students that applied, 403 were placed in 2004 winter externships.

“The goal of the program is to provide students with a glimpse into the reality of an organization,” said Law. “They make a career decision based on first-hand knowledge rather than what they are reading or hearing about.”

Students can intern with doctors, lawyers, filmmakers, teachers, advertisers — and the list goes on. Demetra Dentes, senior associate director of employer and alumni relations, wrote in an e-mail, “students have been to the White House to shadow a presidential advisor, to the Virgin Islands to paint with an artist, to hospitals and doctors’ offices around the country, to courtrooms on the East and West Coasts, [and] to count bald eagles in Montana.”

The program finds sponsors among many Cornell alumni who, in many cases, were at some point in their lives just as undecided as you are about their plans after graduation. Albert Podell ’56, a Cornell externship sponsor for the past ten years, said that he wished such an opportunity had been available to him when he attended Cornell.

“I was poking around for 14 years with different careers until I decided that I wanted to be an attorney. I was an editor for Playboy, I specialized in advertising and did an expedition around the world and wrote a book about it,” said Podell.

Barton Mills ’64, an externship sponsor for the past four years, said that while attending Cornell, “I had this sort of willful blindness about life after graduation. I just didn’t want to think about it.” Mills added that he did know that he wanted to become a journalist, however, “I would have known what kind of journalist I wanted to be if I had actually seen them in action.”

With the externship program, Cornell alumni are eager and enthusiastic to show students what it is like to work in their profession. Some sponsors may even offer housing or transportation to help. Podell, who owns a law firm, expressed his motivation for working with student externs. “I love it. I feel I can leave a lasting legacy, [it’s] a wonderfully rewarding feeling,” he said.

Mills, a freelance journalist and co-owner of Mills Syndicate in Manhattan Beach, CA., said, “I get a shot in the arm talking to students. They are so enthusiastic. Far too few students take advantage of an opportunity like this.”

Externships for sophomores, juniors, and seniors occur over winter break and can run anywhere from one day to two weeks. Freshman externships are held during spring break.

Students returned from externships this past winter break with plenty to say about their experiences. John Chu ’05, a communications major, externed at Risk Management Magazine for five days. During that time Chu spent three days working and two days talking with his sponsor.

“I got to work hands-on and really find out what it really feels like to work in that field. I was lucky enough to write, edit and publish an article,” he said.

Anna Ying-Hsi Chen ’04, a biology major, externed with a teacher at R.C. Buckley School in Lansing, NY. Chen, who is thinking about becoming a pediatrician, wanted to get more experience with kids. She said that she now “is just so connected with the kids … that I am going to go back and visit them sometimes.”

Economics major Dana Diament ’05 flew from New Jersey to Florida for an externship with Congressperson Kathryn Harris, whose district director was Diament’s Cornell sponsor. Diament spoke to constituents, researched constituent problems, and attended the dedication of a veteran’s home. Her externship lasted for three days and she said that in those three days she learned a lot. “It was definitely worth [flying] down there,” she said.

Diament is interested in public policy and was not necessarily interested in running for office. She wanted to get hands-on experience with what government actually does. Diament was also happy with her sponsor, describing her as “really friendly, flexible, accommodating and thorough. She answered all my questions, [and] gave me a tour of the office. She was really good. There were no awkward moments.”

Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can find information about the program at the Cornell Career Services website every year around the beginning of October in order to apply and meet a deadline that is usually in November. Freshmen can apply now.

Law said, “most people come back with a lot of great stories about all that they learned and the connections they made. Some students will end up getting an interview if they really make an impact.”


Archived article by Ikea Hamilton

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