Learning on the Job

For over 40 years, the Center for Career and Professional Advising has matched alumni working in a wide array of industries with interested Haverford students for hands-on experience in their chosen field.

The Center for Career and Professional Advising (CCPA) is known for facilitating relationships between current and past Haverford students, and nowhere is this more apparent than through their signature externship program. For more than 40 years, the CCPA has played matchmaker for students and alumni sponsors for a weeklong workplace experience over the College’s winter or spring break.

An externship is different from an internship in that it is a much shorter engagement (one week versus a whole summer or semester) for professional shadowing rather than hands-on work. And as such it is a much less committal way to test the waters of various lines of work.

“Career exploration takes many forms, and shadowing is a great way to sample a career or industry that you are considering without going all-in for a full summer, or saying yes to a full-time job,” said Director of Career Engagement and Initiatives Jennifer Barr. “For liberal arts students, it’s incredibly helpful to shadow someone from the same type of educational background, and witness how alumni transfer their academic skills to the workplace.”

The process begins with students pouring over the CCPA’s list of alumni and parent externship sponsors. They then select up to six of them who work in careers they are eager to explore and apply by sending in their resume and an essay outlining their interest. With a strong alumni network in a variety of fields, the matching process is an essential piece of the CCPA’s facilitation of the program.

“To match students,” Barr said “we consider everything from the professionalism of their documents, to a compelling essay, and even their class year or whether or not they’ve done the program before. It’s a little bit of a puzzle, and we try very hard to place every student with one of their top six choices.”

This year, Alexander Venturini ’21 externed at the Lawyers Alliance for New York with Liz Guggenheimer P’16 to gain some more insight in the legal field.

To me, the most valuable part of the experience was talking to the staff about their experience and work. It was really helpful to learn how they’ve navigated their careers as well as their future plans,” he said. “One thing my sponsor told me that struck me was to think about not only the field of work that interests you, but also the type of work. For example, if you’re interested in theater, but the job you have is an administrative role and you want to be a director, then that job might not the best fit for you. Although I know I’m interested in law, the type of work isn’t something I’ve considered much before.”

For Barr and the CCPA, this sort of lesson is precisely the goal of the program, since the diversity of work that externs experience means there is no universal idea of a successful externship.

“I think some of the most rewarding experiences are those that genuinely help to inform a student about whether or not it’s a career field they want to pursue,” she said. “We’ve had externs work on documentary movie sets, and others observe complex medical operations, so a good experience will definitely mean different things to different people. Either way, seeing the day-to-day realities of the workplace—and in that particular industry—can be very exciting.”

The externship experience isn’t just for the students, however, for alumni sponsors like Joe Stern ’92, who works in Information Technology at NAXION, it is a chance to serve as a mentor and a guiding force for the current generation of Fords.

When I first saw the letter from the CCPA asking alumni to host current students as externs, I saw it as my chance to help some modern version of the student I was in 1992,” he said. “I imagined myself putting my arm around the shoulder of a terrified humanities major and pointing excitedly to the sky, describing in a consoling voice all the open doors out there, waiting after graduation.”

Stern has hosted a Haverford or Bryn Mawr extern nearly every year since 2000, and has relished the chance to show Bi-Co students the sheer variety of opportunities that are available to them after graduation.

“My favorite thing about sponsoring an extern is bringing them around my office and having my colleagues describe their jobs and their path to their current career state,” said Stern. “The externs get to hear, in many varied and interesting ways, practical information about how people get employed, and the different backgrounds they brought with them.”

Ultimately, the weeklong externship experience is a way for parents, alumni, and students to engage with their Haverford educations in a new setting, and reflects a generosity of spirit that is essential to the College’s values and emphasis on giving back.

We have such a strong alumni base in the Bi-Co, and our graduates are so eager to give back,” said Barr. “They particularly love the one-on-one contact—it’s one of the best ways for alumni to spend quality time with current students, and provide something direct and incredibly constructive. The week makes such an impression and has a powerful impact for students, and the alumni are definitely the reason.”

Photo: Brandon Pita ’22 and Charlotte Dagones ’22 during their externship with Oscar Wang ’14 at CollegeTogether, Wang’s nonprofit dedicated to suppoting Philadelphia’s underserved students through their college-admissions process.