AAEB Member Considers Externships a Vital Part of the K-Plan

Vital, perhaps a tad overlooked, and with a “porch time” aspect unique to K, Kalamazoo College’s Discovery Externship Program has connected students and alums since 2002. The externship provides students with valuable observation and participation in a field of their choosing, and, unlike a traditional internship (or any undergraduate program in the country) it  also provides students homestays with K alumni. Opportunities range in character and geography, from helping at a community kitchen and farmer’s market in Chelsea, Mich., to working with children on the autism spectrum at Daily Behavioral Health in Cleveland, Ohio, to getting up close and personal with octopi in the crystal waters of the Caribbean for the Northeastern University Marine Science Center.

Andrew Terranella ’99, M.D.

One of the program’s early alumni adopters, Andrew Terranella ’99, M.D., saw immediately how K students might benefit from time spent at his work. A physician with the Public Health Service, Terranella works with Indian Health Services to provide care to reservations in the southwest United States. In 2008, when he arrived at his first post-residency job as a pediatrician on the Navajo Reservation in Kayenta, Arizona, he called his alma mater.

“We often had medical students come to the reservation,” said Terranella, who serves on the College’s Alumni Association Executive Board, “and I thought it would be fun to have a K student come out, so I called Pam Sotherland [program and data manager at the Center for Career and Professional Development]. She said, ‘Well, we have a new thing called an externship.’”

Terranella and Sotherland composed a description of his medical, rural externship, and soon after two young women, Anna Hassan ’10 and Lauren Torres ’10, signed up and made their way from a verdant Michigan summer to the red dirt and open skies of the Southwest.

Terranella wanted to maximize the benefit of externship for the students by providing some hands-on, brains-on work in addition to job shadowing. “We were launching a program in the clinic called, ‘Adventures in Medicine,’ which was a summer science project for local children and teens,” Andrew explains. “I had a general idea for the program, but I wanted the K externs, along with two medical students, to design the curriculum and administer it.” First things first, though. “We wanted to have one week of orienting to the place and to get to really know each other, so we went on a river trip on the Green River in Utah, which was a blast.” After that, the externs had time to plan and then implement the three-week science program. It is the time students spend with alumni during homestays that differentiates the discovery externship program from any other.

In addition to having the chance to see what a physician does, Anna and Lauren worked with students from area schools, in the process learning how to run a biomedical summer class and how the tribal community functioned.  That interaction is important to Terranella. “I think it’s important for people to see that reservations exist,” he explained, “because there is an entire group of Americans that people don’t pay a whole lot of attention to. And yet the reservation is beautiful country, the people are fantastic, and the medicine is really interesting, a type that you won’t see in an academic setting.”

Through hosting externs, Terranella also hopes to inform others of the importance of public health and Indian Health Services, specifically. “Having students come here is a great way to share the cultural experience of working with IHS. Cultural competence is not something you may always learn about in medical school or as an undergrad,” he explains. In fact, in part because of that arid and exhilarating summer at Kayenta, Hassan went on to get her Master of Public Health degree and now works with underserved communities in New Orleans.

Terranella keeps in touch with many of his externs, and credits the homestay aspect of the program for fostering a close-knit bond. “Undoubtedly an important part of the experience is just having one-on-one time—what we call ‘porch time’, which is sitting together after a work day and chatting about anything. Porch time makes externships something more valuable than just getting to see my work. It’s about experiencing a life, as well. What is work-life balance like? What is like to be an IHS doctor living in Tucson? And I get to ask questions of the students and find out about their passions.”

Because of the rewards of hosting, Terranella has offered an externship to K students every year that he can. In addition to those of Hassan and Torres, he has provided externships for the following K students:  Emily Parsons ’11, Jenny Kwon ’16, Elizabeth Lenning ’16, Miranda Doepker ’16, and Karina Duarte ’18. And he intends to create an externship at his new job—deputy director of a tribal hospital on the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona—as soon as he’s settled.

“It’s a really great experience. I’ve loved having the students.”

To get involved in the externship experience, visit the Host an Extern page at Kalamazoo College’s website. Here, you can see past externships, find tips on creating a successful externship and see what past hosts say about their experience.

K’s Career Development Sees Great Numbers in Grad Destinies

Three K students (l-r), Zhi Nee Wee ’20, Tori Regan ’20 and Jasmine Kyon ’17 speak with Tom Occhipinti of Pure Michigan during the 2016 Recruiting Expo.

Rachel Wood likes the numbers from Kalamazoo College’s most recent (class of 2016) First Destination Survey, especially participation (94 percent) and jobs secured (92 percent).

“They suggest that the combination of the liberal arts and the career programs at K are a great value for life after K,” says Wood, the assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD). Wood has coordinated the survey data on behalf of the College for many years; in 2013 she reshaped the questions (according to guidelines established by the National Association of Colleges and Employers) to yield more reliable comparisons from year to year.

Results from the seven years K has conducted the survey or its consanguine forbears suggest several interesting trends. More K students seek immediate employment after graduation (69 percent in 2016; 34 percent in 2010, the survey’s first year). Fewer seek to enroll immediately in graduate school or other forms of continuing education (17 percent in 2016 versus 32 percent in 2010).

Whichever of these two pathways new alumni choose, the upward trend of their success is impressive. Of new alumni seeking employment in 2016, 92 percent secured jobs within six months of graduation (up from 70 percent in 2010). Of those who wanted “graduate school/continuing education,” 80 percent were enrolled within in six months (up from 66 percent in 2010).

Overall participation in the survey hit its highest mark ever this year—94 percent, up from 75 percent in 2010. The reason? “We keep the survey open longer, from mid-May to December,” explains Wood. “We also rely on humor in our encouragements, take advantage of social media, and remind new alums of a very valuable quid pro quo: that CCPD services are open to them for life.

“Of course,” admits Wood with a smile, “that’s true for all alumni, regardless of age or whether they participated in the survey.”

Wood says that in 2015-16 some 71 percent of K students used one or more of the programs and services provided by the CCPD, and she believes the survey numbers reflect the growth in number and effectiveness of those programs and services.

Like basic career coaching, which starts with conversations to help students better connect their strengths and interests with potential job opportunities. “We encourage students to have those conversations with us as early as possible,” says Wood. The sooner, the better, especially for the possibility of informal job shadowing. “We help students find and reach out to alumni willing to speak with students in their workplaces, for periods of time ranging a half day to a week.” Such early career investigations give students greater insight down the road for choosing an internship that best fulfills their career education needs and expectations.

The CCPD also provides assistance with professional document creation—both online and on paper — and with mock interviews for employment or graduate school. Documents include, among others, profiles on web platforms like LinkedIn, résumés, specialized cover letters and personal statements for graduate schools.

“The standards for these materials change rapidly,” explains Wood. “We help alumni eliminate from their documents any sense of outdated-ness that might reduce their chances to get a foot in the door for an interview.”

The Center’s “mock” interviews are quite real. Whenever possible, instead of CCPD staff, outside volunteers (often alumni) agree to simulate interviews in their career fields, either in person, by phone, by Skype and even (occasionally) all of the above.

Rachel Wood (right) and her CCPD colleague Pam Sotherland at the 2016 Recruiting Expo

A “mock” so close to real requires broad preparation. Not to worry, CCPD has workshops and special events for that, and more. For example, Wood and her colleagues often arrange lunch meetings — called “Passions to Professions” — that connect students with alumni on campus for various reasons, often for various classroom presentations.

“These informal gatherings in Welles are an opportunity for students to network with alumni for advice based on their career pathways,” says Wood.

Other networking events include CCPD’s “Connection Reception” (which occurs during homecoming weekend, when hundreds of alumni are on campus) as well as Recruiting Expos and Career Fairs, at both K and Western Michigan University (CCPD provides buses for the latter).

And CCPD continues the K-Plan tradition of offering internships (progeny of what many older alums remember as the “career service” quarter). CCPD also provides stipends in order to ensure access to an internship experience for all students.

At K the internship program has expanded to include externships — shorter career explorations that involve homestays with alumni. “Those homestays,” says Wood, “make the value of our externships unique among similar programs in the country.”

Data from the three most recent graduating classes indicate that a little more than 30 percent of students complete at least one K externship or internship. And during the last four summers CCPD has dispersed an average of $102,000 for internship stipend support.

This impressive combination of programs and services contributes to the equally impressive numbers of the First Destination Survey, according to Wood, including the large percentage of students seeking work who find it within six months. Does the survey provide any insight regarding satisfaction with those jobs?

“We pose two questions to all respondents,” says Wood. That “all” includes those seeking and enrolled in grad school and the 7 percent who secure “volunteer or service programs” like the Peace Corps and Teach For America.

“We ask ‘How closely related is your major to your first destination activity?’ and ‘How satisfied are you with your first destination activity?’” Wood says.

The answers, respectively, she adds: “‘It doesn’t always connect’ and ‘I love it!’ And, together, those answers exalt the value of the liberal arts,” specifically, the ability to navigate a life (and job market) that is more nonlinear than linear and to find work that feeds the soul as well as the body.

Staying Engaged

We members of the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB) spend a great deal of time talking about alumni engagement. The Get Engaged page on the College’s website lists several opportunities for alumni to continue to be involved, not only with the College but also with current students and recent graduates.

West Nelson ’81

Sometimes the engagement is not as direct as volunteering at a college fair or identifying a prospective student. It’s often the continuation and strengthening of bonds formed when we were on campus or afterward. Turner Lewis ’63 and I served together on the AAEB for a few years. In 1996, he put together a rafting trip down the Colorado River. There’s hardly been a day since when I haven’t thought about how great the experience was. Amy Mantel Hale ’66 and her daughter, Lauren, were also on the trip. Years later, Lauren has used photos of my father in her TED Talks (which for me feels almost as good as giving one).

When I was a sophomore, during a class with [Professor Emeritus of Sociology] Marigene Arnold, we discussed voting on school millage proposals—a choice or a duty? Dr. Arnold suggested the latter, because others had done that for us when we were in elementary and middle school. Without actually saying it was our obligation, she delivered the message.

Years later, on September 11, 2001, when I was living in New York City, the first person I heard from was the late Joe Brockington [Director of the Center for International Programs] checking to make sure I was all right. I was, and because phone service in lower Manhattan was intermittent, Joe called my father to let him know I was okay. I next heard from Gail Griffin and Ed Menta, respectively. I will forever be grateful to Joe, Gail and Ed for their kindness.

I’ve not yet had the pleasure of hosting an extern or an intern, but while I was in the New York City metro area, if a K grad, newly arrived in the city, reached out to me with questions about where to live or things to do, I would first buy them a monthly Metrocard. It was a small thing and didn’t cost me much, but it took one thing off their plate, and it allowed them to explore without having to worry about that part of their budget. The second thing: I would tell them to never sleep on the subway. They were always immediately thankful for the first, and understanding about the second would eventually follow.

Some of the best people I know are children of K alumni. They never cease to amaze me. Not all of them followed their parent to K, but if they did and they knew me, they always managed to find me when I was on campus and either give me a big hug or pass along greetings from their parents.

The light bulb moment long ago in Dr. Arnold’s class has stayed with me to this day. We owe those who come after us. I give back to the college because I want them to be able to have an opportunity to see their own light. Engagement with the college is both direct and indirect. Either way, the rewards are equally bright.

You can learn more about the Kalamazoo College Alumni Association and the many ways to become more engaged with the college. Staying engaged has certainly made a difference in my life.

West Nelson is an adjunct professor and freelance document specialist. He’s currently reconnecting with his east coast roots by sampling shellfish and fishing for bluefish in Rhode Island.