Rhiannon Harwi ’20, a media & communication and studio art major, connected with Deb Clay-Alston ’98 P’14, a sales executive at ADP in Allentown. Clay-Alston also serves as vice president of the College’s Alumni Board.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Muhlenberg Magazine.
The Muhlenberg Career Center staff recognized that some students struggle with a common catch-22: They want to secure an internship to learn skills and make connections that could lead to an entry-level job, but they don’t yet have enough experience to qualify for such an internship. “We’ve always been imagining how to get hands-on experience for students who are in their first or second year or who maybe haven’t had an internship yet,” says Samantha Hof, director of employer engagement.
The Career Center’s day-long shadow program, which connected 87 students with 56 alumni and parent hosts this past winter break, is a start, but resume-worthy skills and lasting relationships aren’t built in a day. Enter the Center’s new externship program: Students spend three to five days before the spring semester working full-time with hosts who can assign tasks and projects that build students’ knowledge and provide substance for future job applications and interviews. Twenty students were matched with 19 hosts for the first official round of externships this January.
Emma Hamm ’15, assistant director of alumni and parent engagement, launched the program by putting out a call for both shadow and externship hosts last summer—those interested in having externs were required to create a job description to post on the recruiting platform Handshake. To apply, students submitted resumes and cover letters, an exercise that was new for some. Students who matched had to attend an orientation at the Career Center that covered everything from the initial phone call to the post-externship thank-you note. “We dove into how to present themselves when they’re actually there,” Hamm says. “For example, nod in meetings. Know when to speak and when to be quiet. It’s different than it is when you’re in a classroom.”
The externships took place the week of January 6, but that’s all they had in common: They happened in schools and hospitals, at international corporations and family-owned businesses, as far west as La Jolla, California, and as far east as Boston, Massachusetts.
The diversity of opportunities available allowed students from all class years and a variety of majors to find externships that interested them. In the end, feedback from both students and hosts was overwhelmingly positive, Hof and Hamm say. Students garnered a much deeper understanding of what goes into a job than they could in a single day, and alumni got to share their wisdom and learn firsthand about what it’s like to be at Muhlenberg today. Read on to see what three student-alum pairs took away from their externship experiences.
Sydney Holliday ’23, a theatre major, conducted an externship with Robert Wagner ’07, performing arts teacher at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego County, California.
Justin Axelrod ’20, a psychology major and economics minor, found an externship mentor in Paul Silverman ’78, owner and co-founder of real-estate development firm SILVERMAN.