Feb. 5, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 9

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    Challenges with fair pay, coveted Metcalfs prepare students for the real world

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Imagine what the dream summer internship would be like. There would be very little clerical work—in fact, the work would only involve substantive projects, whether it be assisting an economist who is researching the impact of a change in Medicare policy, or helping a director stage a play. Throughout the summer, there would be support—a mentor would provide guidance and answer “big picture” questions about the internship, and college friends would gather periodically to share experiences. Best of all, there would be fair pay. How does $4,000 dollars for 10 weeks sound?

    These dreamlike conditions, in fields that range from government and the arts to investment banking and medicine, are all available to students in the College. And perhaps it is no surprise that in recent years, the Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program, coordinated by Career and Placement Services, has grown into one of the College’s most popular programs.

    Last year, more than 325 students went through the rigorous multiple-interview Metcalf application process in pursuit of 100 coveted internships. And this year, Liz Michaels, Director of CAPS, said there could be even more interest. The final deadline for Metcalf internship applications is Monday, Feb. 16.

    Michaels said the Metcalf fellowships have been extremely valuable to CAPS in helping students develop skills for post-Chicago life. Several Metcalf fellowships have led directly to full-time positions, and all students, even those who do not get an internship, get valuable tips about their interview performance.

    But what is equally encouraging, Michaels said, is how the Metcalf program has strengthened ties with the University’s alumni community. The University now has a database of nearly 400 Metcalf program volunteers who function as internship mentors or assist CAPS in interviewing and choosing the Fellows. The volunteer numbers grew by more than 100 in the last year alone. “Putting students in touch with alumni,” said Michaels, is a key goal of CAPS. “We want to build a University network.”

    The Metcalf Fellows Program was established in 1997 in honor of Harold “Jeff” Metcalf (A.M., ’53), a longtime administrator at the University, who was Dean of Students in the Graduate School of Business for more than 20 years and Director of Athletics from 1976 to 1981. Metcalf played an influential role as a mentor and friend to many students, including Byron Trott (A.B., ’81, M.B.A., ’82), a University Trustee.

    Trott, who wanted to honor Metcalf for influencing his career, initiated the internship program. Currently a managing director and partner of Goldman, Sachs and Co., Trott received his first internship because of a contact Metcalf made on his behalf. “If it weren’t for Jeff Metcalf,” Trott has written, “I would not be in the career I am in now.”

    The Metcalf Fellows Program started with just eight student interns in the summer of 1996, but grew rapidly, largely because of the efforts of John Boyer, Dean of the College.

    One of Boyer’s key initiatives as Dean has been to expand the number of options for students to learn outside the classroom, and he has been a major supporter of the Metcalf program. “He pushes for funding, speaks at the Metcalf kick-off events, writes letters to send to employers,” said Jay Burgin, Associate Director of Recruiting at CAPS, and one of the program’s coordinators. “He really has worked to get this program established.”

    Since the program’s inception, one of its hallmarks has been to secure only internships that offer “substantive” work to College students. Bill Lan, Associate Director of Employer Development, evaluates each internship proposal to ensure that the position will challenge the intern. One of Lan’s guidelines is “that no job is more than 25 percent clerical.”

    Lan tries to develop internships in fields that interest students. He then will work with employers to develop appropriate job descriptions, or find projects or schedules that will meet student expectations. During the summer, he and other CAPS staff members continue to work closely with both employers and students, or they may make site visits to evaluate the internship, making sure it is sufficiently challenging.

    But quality control is not the only purpose of the site visits, added Burgin. “It’s also a way of reminding the students that this is part of their Chicago experience.”

    In an effort to create a community of Metcalf fellows, CAPS sponsors activities each summer that bring students and alumni together in such cities as New York, Washington and Chicago, where there is a concentration of fellows. In areas where fewer interns are placed, CAPS still makes the effort to provide a sense of support and community. A lone fellow in London last summer, third-year Kate Turk, who was interning at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, was linked up with alumni living in London. “It was great,” said Turk, who spent a weekend at an alumni member’s home. “It was really nice to have the connection.”

    Burgin said cultivating this alumni network, which can be tapped to assist students in their professional pursuits, has been one of the most encouraging developments of the program.

    During the program’s first years, CAPS staff and faculty members conducted Metcalf interviews and evaluated applications. Now, alumni handle the majority of the application process. “This is much better,” said Burgin. Nowadays, journalists interview would-be journalists, investment bankers give feedback to wannabe bankers. Botanists are matched with botanists.

    A surprising byproduct of the Metcalf Fellows Program is that many alumni have been inspired to support the fellows. Though the College and the businesses that offer the internships are the program’s main funding sources, some alumni are now directly funding Metcalf fellows.

    Paul Seeley, Associate Director of Regional Major Gifts in Development, has played a major role in developing the Metcalfs, Burgin said.

    An alumni gift allowed Priya Agarwala, an Economics and Pre-Medicine concentrator, to study health care policy at the American Enterprise Institute last summer.

    Agarwala said her fellowship experience, which in part involved analyzing the implications of a change in Medicare policy, has convinced her to pursue a career as a health care policy analyst.

    “I would love to have a chance to support a Metcalf fellow someday,” said Agarwala. “It would be a great way of giving back.”