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 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
“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
“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
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."