When Kevin Caldwell ‘08 began his first day as an extern at Manhattan-based National Economic Research Associates (NERA) in January 2007, he was understandably nervous. “I’d heard horror stories about corporate culture in New York. I thought it was going to be dog-eat-dog,” says Caldwell, an economics major from Nashville. But he was an extern. He was representing MIT. He was prepared to persevere.
In fact, he found that NERA, which performs economic analyses for parties undergoing or anticipating litigation, was a very welcoming environment. “My coworkers were great. Everything was much less brutal than I expected,” he says. And so began another success story in the MIT Alumni Association’s 12-year-old Student/Alumni Externship Program.
Last January, 269 externs participated in the program, which matches students with alumni sponsors for short-term work experiences during the January Independent Activities Period (IAP). The program is open to all undergraduates and graduate students. In September, interested students review the externship listings posted on MITAA’s website, select up to three opportunities each, and submit résumés and cover letters electronically. Alumni sponsors then review the applications, select candidates to interview, and notify MIT of their top choices. Software maximizes the number of matches between students and externships, and students are notified of matches in mid-November.
Growing Interest and Opportunities
Since its inception, the externship program has achieved steady gains. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of applicants rose from 455 to 691, and the number of students placed increased from 163 to 269. And as the program has grown, so has students’ willingness to share their experiences. “In 2008, three students posted blogs about their externships,” says Katie Maloney, associate director of student and alumni relations. “It was fun to read each day about their adventures in their workplace and in a new city. They got real-world experience and discovered great restaurants and museums as well.”
An externship may last just a week or span the entire IAP. Students are responsible for living and travel expenses, but sponsoring companies may provide stipends or help with housing and transportation. NERA, for example, offers a stipend of $18 an hour, and Caldwell combed Craigslist until he found a room to rent with a family in Brooklyn.