Externships another option to gain career experience

By Megan Kelly

University students looking for insight into potential career fields can receive hands-on experience through the Illini Externship Program. The program, which began in 1994 to bring University alumni and students together in a work setting, allows students to shadow an alumnus in a career field of interest during spring break.

The program recruits freshmen, sophomores and juniors from any major who are exploring career paths and have given serious thought to their professional lives.

To become an extern, students must submit an application, essay and resume electronically to the program’s Web site. Former externs review the applications and choose the most qualified ones. These students are interviewed by three people in a format similar to a formal job interview, said Greg Hatch, assistant director of The Career Center and co-adviser for the extern program.

“For some students, this is their first resume and interview,” Hatch said. “Many feel that even this part of our program is a good learning experience to prepare for the future.”

Last year, students were accepted into the externship. An exact number for this year has not been determined, but may be higher, Hatch said. Following acceptance into the program, students are paired with alumni sponsors working in their potential careers. The program coordinators research and contact alumni to invite them into the program and to set them up with the externs. During spring break, the students begin their externships, which last between one and five days.

Megan Hanley, senior in ACES, participated in the externship last year. Before her externship, Hanley was interested in becoming a registered dietician and performed her externship at a hospital. Not only did the externship help her make connections which led to a summer internship, but it also made her realize that she did not want to take on dietetics as a career. Hanley is now considering applying to medical school.

“Sometimes externs find that their experience wasn’t what they were expecting and decide to change career paths,” Hatch said. “I think it’s better to find that out now instead of after getting your degree and entering into that field.”

Sean McDonald, senior in LAS, was an extern to a financial adviser last year at Morgan Keegan, an investment firm in St. Louis.

“Up until that point I had only read and researched what a financial adviser does,” he said. “It wasn’t until after I went into the office and talked to and followed around the professionals that I actually got the real experience.”