April 3, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 13

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    Pilot program allows second-years to shadow alumni in the workplace

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Second-year Indivar Dutta-Gupta did not choose an unusual Spring Break destination; he went to Miami. But he did not lounge on the beach, nor did he go for a swim. Dressed in a business suit, Dutta-Gupta spent his five Spring Break days, from roughly 8:45 a.m to 6:30 p.m., in a downtown Miami office building. He spent his vacation watching Chicago alumna Caroline Heck Miller (A.B., ’71), a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s office, draft memos on her computer, conduct legal research, and discuss criminal cases with other lawyers and public officials.

    “It was a great experience,” said Dutta-Gupta, who does not regret sacrificing his leisure time. In fact, he said, working Spring Break helped him answer an important question about his future. “Yes, I’m definitely more interested in a career in public service law.” And specifically, within the law, Dutta-Gupta said, “I might be interested in working on appeals.”

    Dutta-Gupta is one of eight College students who spent Spring Break at work as part of the Alumni Board of Governors Career Externship Program, a pilot program, co-sponsored by the Alumni Board of Governors and CAPS (Career and Placement Services).

    The externship program, which paired second-years with alumni, gave the students a first-hand glimpse at a wide range of work environments. While Gupta spent a week in the U.S Attorney’s office, other students got a chance to enter the worlds of finance, journalism, software development and medical research. And the second-years did not merely visit the general work environment of alumni, but shadowed them and gained full access to important meetings, research and every other aspect of their workdays.

    For instance, Neeta Nadkarny observed Daniel Hertzberg (A.B., ’68), deputy managing editor, and five other leading editors of The Wall Street Journal plan the paper’s coverage of the war in Iraq and discuss such concerns as an endangered reporter in southern Iraq.

    The externships are not to be confused with internships, said Nancy Beach, Associate Director of Class and Campus Programs at the Alumni Office and one of the program organizers. Unlike summer internships, where students are assigned projects and asked to provide support to staff, externships have two requirements of students: to watch and to ask questions. “It was more like take-a-student-to-work week,”said Beach, describing the three- to five-day externships.

    The practical purpose of the externships was to give second-years a chance to “explore,” said Liz Michaels (A.B.,’88), Director of CAPS. Externs were chosen not because they had experience in a particular field, but because of their ability to articulate their curiosity in a specific profession, she said.

    The externship program is one of the first activities that the Alumni Board of Governors’ Students to Alumni subcommittee has organized. Charged with finding ways of engaging students and alumni, the nine-member committee launched the program based on a suggestion made by Hertzberg.

    A graduate student at Chicago had shared the externship idea with Hertzberg, who believed it responded to a major student interest. Conversations with staff and students continually reveal that students want to learn about careers, Hertzberg said. “And one of the things we have as alumni is jobs. Alumni can be a real help and provide real guidance in a way that can be useful.”

    What also appealed to committee members about the program, said Beach, was its feasibility. Alumni were asked to invite second-years into their offices and laboratories for an average of three days. “It wasn’t a huge time commitment for them,” Beach said.

    For CAPS, the externship program fits ideally into the second-year segment of its four-year career planning programs. During their second year, students are encouraged to begin thinking broadly about career options by attending special career events and by interviewing people in careers they are considering. In January, CAPS posted information and biographies of participating alumni for the career externships being offered. Interested students submitted a resume and a statement of interest. “It’s about exploration,” Michaels said.

    So far, student response has been enthusiastic. Ma, who is wrestling with possible careers in law or finance, has new insights into his future. He is more inclined to pursue a career in finance, and, he said, “I want to work for two years before going to graduate school.”

    And Nadkarny, who, prior to her externship with Hertzberg, had only limited exposure to journalism, is interested in doing more work as a journalist at Chicago. She said she expected she might “get in the way” as a visiting extern without work responsibilities at the fast-paced Wall Street Journal, but that was not the case. “Everyone was really helpful and willing to answer my questions.”

    Because this is a pilot program, the Alumni Board of Governors will meet in April to discuss the future of the externship program. Some key questions will be addressed, Michaels said. “Is the timing in Spring Break right? Maybe we should do this in the Fall or Winter Quarter? And will the program be expanded?”

    If successful, Beach said, the program could begin tapping into a network of more than 4,000 Chicago alumni, who already have provided their contact information to students through the Alumni Career Network (http://alumni.careers.uchicago.edu).

    Michaels is enthusiastic, too, about the increasing role alumni are playing in career development. Like the program in which alumni read Metcalf applications, she said, the Alumni Board of Governors externship program is yet another way of showing the strength of Chicago’s network of successful graduates.

    In addition to Heck Miller, Hertzberg and McGinn, alumni participating in the Externship Program are Paul Volberding (A.B.,’71), professor and vice-chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, whose extern was Ilyana Romanovsky; Greg Gunn (A.B.,’91), president of Wireless Generation, who worked with James Liu; Doug Jackman (A.B.,’89, M.B.A.,’95), executive vice president of Thomas White Asset Management, whose extern was Eunmi An; Linda Lu (A.B.,’91), attorney at Lowis & Gellen, whose extern was Ariella Omholt; and Geralyn Yoza (A.B.,’81, M.B.A.,’87), national manager of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales, whose extern was Rosaria Mannino. Louise Rehling (A.M.,’70, S.M.,’74), vice president of product development, Interface Software, worked with extern Caroline Kaufmann, who is pursuing her S.M. in Computer Science.