Externships allow for glimpse of working world

By Eric Anderson

This spring, Cancun can wait.

That’s the decision of students who will be skipping the beach for business experience, courtesy of the Illini Externship Program.

Illini Externships are mini-internships that give undergraduates an opportunity to gauge their interest in the nine-to-five activities of their chosen career-field.

The program provides shadow experiences with University alumni who are interested in giving back to their alma mater by hosting an extern. Now in its fourteenth year, the program has provided the real-life experience to add to skills learned in the classroom.

Mahika Sood, Illini Externship Coordinator, has only to recount her own externship experience last year at a University of Illinois-Chicago cell biology lab, which dispelled her desire to become a medical researcher.

“After last year’s externship, I realized that research is not that appealing to me as a person. I thought I would be a perfect fit,” Sood said. “But I wanted to be around more people.”

Whether students love or loathe their experience, Sood counts the externship as a success. She said students tend to glamorize the business world. An externship may show them that businesses are not all cocktail parties peppered with “The Office” witticisms.

Colleen Delaney, freshman in Communications, hopes her advertising externship will bring her back to New York City this spring, the city where her high school team won eighth place in a national advertising competition.

“I think of my success when I’m in New York,” Delaney said. “What an excellent place for an externship.”

Where Delaney ends up will depend on the efforts of Sood and Eva Shiu, former externs who are now Illini Externship coordinators. After a student is accepted into the program, Shiu and Sood work to find a sponsor for that student.

“It’s a long and hard process,” said Sood of matching externs to a sponsor. “We have to be persistent.”

Shiu said externships in advertising, finance and accounting are the most popular requests. Some students try less conventional externships such as roller coaster design and equine therapy.

Regardless of career choice, students who complete externships tend to be resourceful, dedicated and willing to try new things. Once they have been matched with a sponsor, the responsibility shifts back to the extern to schedule their externship.

“They have this task to contact someone they don’t know,” Shiu said. “They’re go-getters.”

Successful externships demand a genuine interest from participants in their chosen career-field, a willingness to ask questions and professionalism, Sood said. Students hunting for a bullet-point on a resume should probably look elsewhere, she added.

“Only apply if you’re a genuine candidate,” Sood said. “Genuineness shows through.”