What can one day do? If that one day is a winter break externship experience hosted by Lehigh alumni, students can come a step closer to figuring out their futures. During the 2016-2017 winter break, 78 students were matched with alumni at more than 50 companies who opened their workplace doors for students to immerse themselves in what could become a future career.
“I think students benefit from the winter externship by learning about a field, industry, or occupation. They are able to ask, ‘Is this something that I like?’,” said Karen Kuczynski, director for Career and Professional Development (CCPD). “Even if they find that it isn’t for them, that’s good too, because that information helps them as they apply to internships or full-time opportunities.”
Students were invited to businesses for one to multiple day experiences. Emily Walczyk ’19 attended four separate one-day externships with big-name companies, including Stryker Corporation, a medical technologies firm, and Weill Cornell Medical College. Her experience was just one of many opportunities for students, made possible by the generosity of Lehigh alumni and organized by CCPD staff.
“I figured with a one-day office visit, how much could I really learn, but I made so many connections. Not only was it a great experience that provided a lot of benefits, but it provided an unexpected amount,” said Walczyk, a bioengineering major in the integrated business and engineering (IBE) program. “I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Walczyk described each day as full of activity and expressed her excitement over shadowing doctors during one of the externships. One event that particularly impressed her was witnessing a health procedure simulation. The simulation, which she said acted as a hands-on pop quiz for medical students, allowed students to practice performing emergency procedures on high-tech interactive dummies remotely controlled by doctors. She said it was a “cool” experience that she never expected to have without actually going to medical school.
Chris Park ’16, a debt capital markets analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, hosted an externship for Lehigh students for the first time.
“We wanted to provide Lehigh students with a great introduction to identify career opportunities. We hope that it gave them a “spark” to examine different career paths,” said Park, who also emphasized the benefit of making connections.
“When I was looking for a job on Wall Street, I received support and guidance from many successful alumni who led me to where I am today. I know that many others had similar experiences at various points in their careers. So, we were glad to be able to pay it forward and help a younger generation of Lehigh students be more informed,” said Park, who earned a Lehigh bachelor of science degree in finance.
“Attending an externship was a great experience that led me to believe that I am in fact pursuing the right career goal.” — Lex Parsells ’19.
Externships provide a multitude of experience and opportunity to students, especially those who are questioning their choice of major or considering career options. It is a chance to explore the reality of a job firsthand and, from there, make a more informed decision about the future.
“I don’t see how you could go through a day with a host at one of these companies and not get something beneficial out of it,” Walczyk said. “Either you’re going to love the experience and know that this is the path you want to go on, or you realize, ‘Ok, this is one thing I know I won’t do. Let’s see what else there is out there.’”
Lex Parsells ’19, a sophomore in the integrated degree in engineering, arts and sciences (IDEAS) program studying civil engineering and architecture, attended an externship at HNTB Corporation over winter break. Parsells met with a variety of professionals within multiple engineering, architecture, business, and marketing groups. She agrees that this opportunity inspired her to continue following her career path. Parsells hopes to work at a company like HNTB upon graduation as an entry level engineer, and eventually work with public transportation systems and large entertainment-style buildings like museums and concert halls.
“Attending an externship was a great experience that led me to believe that I am in fact pursuing the right career goal. It encouraged me to continue working toward that goal,” said Parsells.
The externship program has grown significantly, with alumni participation doubling.
“We have a lot of pride in Lehigh. Alumni are so willing to come back and support their alma mater and the students,” Kuczynski said.
The program has spread geographically as well. Although externships traditionally were placed in the east coast, this year, the program matched students to alumni across the country to give more opportunities to students who live far from Lehigh. Walczyk said that for her, proximity to alumni is a big factor in networking.
“Being close provides a better opportunity to continue the relationship with [the host], because they can invite you back to the office,” said Walczyk, who maintained contact with one of her externship hosts and later gave him and his son a tour of Lehigh’s campus. These are the type of relationships that CCPD hopes to facilitate.
Kuczynski is working to expand the program even more. This year, the program was only open to sophomores as a way to engage them in career exploration prior to declaring their majors, but Kuczynski believes that a greater pool of alumni volunteers and improved matching technology will soon allow for more class years to take part as well.
“It expands those opportunities for students to connect professionally, and it creates possible leads to an internship or full-time job,” Kuczynski said.
Interested in Being an Externship Host? If you would like to learn more about being a winter externship program host and invite a Lehigh student to your business for a career experience during their winter break, please contact Karen Kuczynski, director for Career and Professional Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Lehigh Career and Professional Development on Twitter at @LehighCCPD.