January 22, 2019
The Ursinus College Externship Program was piloted by Career and Post-Graduate Development in January 2014 and has grown to be a signature program matching students with alumni/parents who serve as “Extern Sponsors”. In this capacity, these alumni/parents offer students 2-5 day job shadow experiences during Winter Break. John Sears ’99 (Biology) has been a dedicated Extern Sponsor each year, providing students with informative and personalized career exploration experiences.
We asked John to reflect upon his experience and share his perspective on the value of the program.
You have been part of the Externship Program from the very start. Why was it of interest to you then and why to do you continue to participate now? I enjoy giving back to Ursinus. Of course there is the financial aspect of giving, but I also place a tremendous value on giving back through other means. As an alumnus, I feel an obligation to build community that extends beyond the four corners of the UC campus. I chose Ursinus because I knew that mentorship and guidance were going to be critical for me to be successful as a student. Faculty and administration delivered on that. Twenty years later, I see and have felt the impact that I can have on current students while they struggle through navigating careerism and finding positive mentors they can rely on. It’s boring to be cliché but this truly boils down to life coming full circle for me as an extern host.
What is the benefit of the Externship Program to you, as an alumnus? Why would other alumni or parents want to help? Honestly, I mostly enjoy the ability to mentor. Every year I have participated I have done at least one week with the externs. I never have assumed students are dying to understand a day-in-the-life of a commercial strategy director at JNJ, nor am I delusional to expect externs to be thrilled with a one-day view of me walking in and out of meetings, sending emails or sitting on conference calls. The externship program extends well beyond “here’s what I do” and I apply more of a “how can I pressure test your every assumption about how to make a career choice?” approach to really achieve a career mentorship experience. This takes more time, and then consequently the scope of our externship starts to creep from “here’s JNJ” to “what is the rank order of the top five drives of happiness in your career?”. Or, let’s learn good communication techniques through PowerPoint. Oh, you don’t have your computers with you? Great, draw your PowerPoint slides on paper and you can present to me that way.
Something else I find valuable through this experience is how much I feel like I am learning, in a variety of ways: First, I feel like I continue to understand and acknowledge the generational gap for me as a GenXer versus the externs. It makes me feel like I can stay current in understanding how people think differently at a generational level down to the individual level. Second, I ask the externs, as a return to me for my time helping them, to teach me. I have posed this usually as, “Come back and teach me 10 things you know I don’t know.” I love seeing where their minds go and what they come up with. Lastly, I have a second career or supplemental career I have been contemplating on career coaching and mentorship, and the externship has only bolstered my belief in myself to take it on.
I also find it wonderful to learn how students think about the application of their scientific background and how that may manifest in a career. Because I have created such an ethereal [sometimes translated as eclectic and interesting, other times translated as non-sensical] career arc weaving science in and out, I feel like I have a strong sense of the application of scientific training in many career forms. I wish College John knew forty-something John back in the day…or had the Internet…to help me figure this stuff out earlier.
I think parents and alumni could find this to be a very gratifying experience. I’m not sure I know anyone who enjoys getting older. But getting wiser comes with the territory, and it’s amazing to me that what I take for granted at my age can move mountains for students. Also, if alumni have had a hard time figuring how they could give back to their alma mater, as first pass sentiment usually is through financial donation, what better way to give back to Ursinus with compound interest – by giving the ability of the current students to gain and to shape more meaningful careers?
What is one of your favorite memories (or two) as an extern sponsor? That’s tough as I’ve done all six years with seven externs. Because of recency bias, I can reflect upon this last round having two undergraduates with me. What manifested as me being comically enraged at the obliviousness of my externs to understand in real-time how building connections with others does wonders for career opportunity, ended up being a good chuckle for all of us. I tried to encourage revealing the overlap in their experience to others, such as potential employers, so they can stand out due to these serendipitous coincidences. Turns out that as we were discussing it further there were lots of things that these two had failed to mention to me [and others] that could have changed our time together. We had a laugh about it, because every time I ask, “Are we sure there is nothing else relevant you could share?” one or both would have something else to admit. Maybe this is lost in translation, but in the moment it could have a made a good mockumentary bit.
I think at a meta-level, it’s these “a-ha” moments that I find incredibly satisfying, whether it be the extern(s) realizing other career paths exist beyond conventional wisdom to uncovering core strengths through personality assessment to realizing life lessons and how they can lead to opportunity (such as sharing common interest and experience to build connections). Another anecdote is that I have been able to get externs in front of internship decision-makers on the fly. One year I had a customer meeting and asked the extern to join. I introduced the extern to my customer and next thing I know the extern was getting pulled in to the office of someone in charge of a summer internship where he interviewed on the spot! This year I just happened to have a connection in neuroscience at the AJ Drexel Institute for Autism where one of the externs now has a real chance of gaining internship experience from a leading expert in the field. So cool watching these relationships pay off in meaningful ways.
A final quote or thought on the Externship Program. The externship program is extremely valuable for the students. As a host, I feel a much deeper sense of connection to Ursinus. In relative terms our alumni base is small coming from a small, liberal arts college. Finding a way to deliver with quality over quantity of the alumni base and how we support the College moving forward is top of mind to me. The externship provides this quality and fulfillment that I seek. Sometimes I wonder if I am getting more out of the externship than the students. Ultimately, that’s probably a sign we are doing something pretty good with this.
If this article inspired you to be involved by offering an externship, please email firstname.lastname@example.org .