Extern Program Connects Students to Alumni and Goals to Reality
Standing in a meeting room 27 stories high overlooking Midtown Manhattan, surrounded by Swarthmore students and alumni, I began to revise my view of the College community—from one focused on campus life to a realization that opportunities after Swarthmore are endless, like the city lights fading into the distance.
This epiphany, at a reception for students and alumni in New York, was just one part of Extern Week. The program, which the Alumni Council started nearly 20 years ago and is now coordinated by Career Services, matches participating students with a graduate of the College whose profession matches the student’s interests. Students then “shadow” their extern sponsors for a week to learn about the graduate’s career.
Some students stay in alumni homes during Extern Week, adding another dimension to the connection between past and current students.
“The home-stay aspect of the program allows alums to connect with the College in a very personal way by letting them interact with students at home,” says Jennifer Barrington, assistant director of Career Services. “The program would not be this big if our incredibly generous alumni could not provide housing.”
This year had the highest participation in the extern program’s history with 220 students participating and 300 alumni who either volunteered to be workplace sponsors or home-stay hosts Jan. 13–20.
Education, law, medicine, and academia were among the professions represented. My Extern Week experience was focused on law, as I shadowed Nancy Hengen ’73, a partner specializing in maritime transactions at the law firm Holland & Knight.
Most of my days were spent reading documents related to a current case, discussing questions and concerns that arose from the cases, and calling clients to address any concerns they had. While I learned a lot about specific cases, what I took away could serve me in virtually any area of law.
Shadowing Nancy enabled me to catch glimpses of the thought processes lawyers employ. While the subject matter of the cases varied, guiding principles such as asking what could be ambiguous in an agreement draft made me think in new ways. The experience also helped confirm my initial suspicions: Law felt “right” to me.
Regardless of career interest, there are common themes that can be found throughout every extern match.
“The extern program helps students answer the question ‘How do I take what I learned in class and make a lifelong career out of it?’” says Barrington. “It really assists in making students think about opportunities that hadn’t been on their horizons.”
The program is not just beneficial for students. It offers alumni a chance to reconnect with their alma mater while also potentially gaining help with current projects.
“The exposure to Swarthmore students is just wonderful,” says Davia Temin ’74, president and CEO of Temin and Co., a strategic marketing firm specializing in corporate reputation management. “It is important for alums to get to know who students are today, because we just remember who we were. I’ve had students come in, conduct research, help give presentations to clients, and even co-author articles with me.”
One of Temin’s externs, Maxwell Sacks ’15, remarks on the extern experience’s strong impact.
“I got more than I could ever ask for out of working for Davia,” he says. “I saw how hard one has to work to achieve something great. She taught me a great deal about accountability and reliability, as her firm is one that must have a reputation for these traits to be successful. It is very hard to build up a reputation and easy to destroy one.”
Temin, who has participated in the program since its inception, is a true believer in the extern program’s value to sponsors as well as students.
“As an alumna, I’ve always been delighted with my experiences with current students,” says Temin. “There is a really high possibility of hitting the jackpot with a wonderful student who can help and learn from you.”