College Externship Program: Inspiration for Students, Employers and Other Universities

by Alyssa Gapske, Communications Intern

What began as an idea to help students discover a career path blossomed into a full-fledged externship program that is being emulated in other parts of the country. Haworth College of Business career advisors Geralyn Heystek and Jessie Wagner match students with employers for a one- to three-day job shadowing experience, creating a learning opportunity for students and local businesses. Beginning with a pilot in 2009, the program has been through three complete cycles and now moves in to its fourth year as a complete, yet ever-evolving program.

The Program

The externship program gives students guidance while they explore their interests in business. The program targets pre-business students of all class standings who are undecided about their major. The program also benefits student populations that may not have a schedule that accommodates a traditional internship. Externships are held in May through August.

“Holding the program during the summer allows students to stay engaged in exploring potential career paths while school isn’t in session,” says Wagner.

The Application Process

Externs at Steelcase

Externs at Steelcase.

Approximately 50 companies participate every year and are typically located within a three-hour radius of campus.  When students apply for the program, they pick their top five employers. After applications are submitted, Heystek and Wagner evaluate every application individually, trying to make sure every student applicant gets matched with the appropriate employer.

“We like to really look at each application and make sure that the student and employer are truly a good match,” says Heystek. “Because the program is shorter than a traditional internship, only one to three days, it is important that both parties know they are compatible right from the beginning.”

Students who do not have much work experience are at an advantage in this program. “At this stage in their academic career, many students don’t have a full or complete resume,” says Wagner. “That is okay. Part of this experience is providing the students with the opportunity to develop skills and explore. And the application process, including resume and essay, ensure a good employer match.”

There are more than 140 externship positions available every year. Once accepted, students are required to attend a professional development workshop in April. The workshop coaches students in soft skills such as etiquette and informational interviewing, which will benefit them in their college and professional careers.

Benefiting Students and Employers

Externs at ECCU

Ric Bondy, MBA '04, president of loan services
at Educational Community Credit Union, with ECCU externs.

Ric Bondy, a WMU alumnus and vice president of loan services at Educational Community Credit Union, has been an employer participant in the Business Externship Program since its inception and notes that the program is an asset that every pre-business student should pursue.

“It doesn’t matter what students think they want to study their first year in college. They aren’t exposed to enough opportunities to make an educated decision,” says Bondy. “This program helps them learn more about all the possibilities that are available to them after graduation.”

He also adds that students are able to meet directly with senior managers through the program, providing them with not only a direct look into the job environment but also with a lifelong network—a crucial tool for students and graduates.

“Our doors at ECCU are always open to business externship students,” says Bondy.

Bondy also emphasizes the positive impact the program can have on any company, “We are able to talk to students about what we love to do and hope that it inspires them to find a career that they love just as much.”

Alison Mellen, a sales and business marketing student, agrees with Bondy’s recommendation for students to apply for the program. “Since I was undecided on my major at the time, I was able to explore many different job paths,” says Mellen. “It was very cool to see all of the different jobs that come together in a company. I would highly recommend the program to all students.”

Following WMU’s Lead

Externs at Haworth

Geralyn Heystek and Jessie Wagner with
externs at Haworth Inc.

The success of Western’s program has not only been recognized by the Kalamazoo community and at companies throughout the Midwest but also by other universities and institutions around the United States. Since 2011, Heystek and Wagner have been sharing their program and its success at conferences such as the National Academic Advising Association and National Career Development Association. In November of 2012, Heystek and Wagner co-presented “Externship Programs: Two Approaches that Bring Relevancy into the Classroom,” at the National Educators Workshop in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Curtis Takahashi, program manager of Workforce Development Council Snohomish County in Everett, Wash.

Takahashi and his organization work in conjunction with the Washington Alliance for Better Schools, providing school districts with resources to improve the quality of education in public schools. After hearing Heystek and Wagner speak at a conference, Takahashi adapted the WMU program to his needs. “The basic principle of WMU’s program can be applied to so many different contexts,” says Takahashi.

His organization’s program provides middle and high school math and science teachers with the opportunity to receive hands-on experience in a different workplace, such as an engineering firm.

“Our teachers use the ideas they learn during the externship and provide their students with a real world element in their curriculum,” he says. “Just like with WMU’s program, our participants are able to gain a better understanding of what is relevant in the industry and apply it to their education, or in our case to their students’ education.”

Wagner agrees with Takahashi about the versatility of externship programs. “Companies and schools want to know how they can make this type of program work for them,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to promote student and employee growth, and institutions want to take advantage of that.”

Heystek remarks that the program is all about sharing ideas that will encourage others to grow. “The Business Externship Program is one that could not have been created if others had not shared their experiences with us,” she says. “We like to share our program with others so that they can develop one that will fit their needs."

More Info

Learn more about the Business Externship Program at the Haworth College of Business.

Editor: Cindy Wagner
Haworth College of Business
2100 Schneider Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamzoo MI 49008-5457 USA
(269) 387-5050 | (269) 387-5710 Fax