Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore externships are perhaps one of the most unique experiences one can pursue as a Swattie. Externships are week-long internships or shadowing opportunities with Swarthmore alumni (or others associated with the College) that take place during winter break. From tech startups in California to corporate firms in New York, externships provide a wide variety of invaluable, first-hand experiences.
Nader Helmy ‘17, a sophomore transfer from the University of Minnesota and a prospective computer science and cognitive science double major, externed this winter in San Francisco at Salesforce Inc., a company with 12,000 employees and 4 billion dollars worth of revenue just last year.
“Salesforce is a bay-area tech company that makes software tools for companies to use in managing their businesses […] They have 150,000 clients, and each client of theirs is a full-blown business. I also toured the offices of various tech companies in the area–specifically Heroku, Github, oPower, and Idibon offices,” Helmy said.
Helmy shadowed Cathy Polsinky ’99, a Vice President of Engineering at the company. Following Polinsky through her daily workday, Helmy was able to directly engage in the daily operations of Salesforce. He learned about other tech companies as well, many of which employ Swat alumni.
Helmy noted, “My favorite part of the externship was learning about the projects that people were working on–specifically, if they had some sort of social impact. […] It was impactful and also technically challenging, which is a great combination.”
For Helmy, the externship was a multifaceted experience that helped confirm his preexisting passions while also deepening his practical understanding of what it takes to enter and succeed in the highly competitive tech-startup arena. “It confirmed for me that I love to create and build things with my own mind. […] It showed me really vividly all the options that are out there for me, and solidified my love of innovation and creation.”
Ultimately, Helmy got to have a little bit of down time as well. Company parties, exploring San Francisco, and mountain climbing were just a few of the activities he was able to experience. “It was just as emotionally stimulating as it was intellectually stimulating and encouraging in terms of career aspirations. I highly recommend it!”
Sunny California seemed to be a popular spot for Swatties doing their externships. Jason Clayton ‘16, an honors political science major, completed his externship at the California Office of the Attorney General.
”I did work in the criminal division,” Clayton said. “I shadowed the ‘leader’ of one of these teams, a Supervising Deputy Attorney General, which meant that I got to take a look at not just her cases, but also the cases of some of the attorneys on her team.”
Like Helmy, Clayton was able to directly participate in his field of interest. Clayton is taking the Constitutional Law Honors seminar with Professor Carol Nackenoff, and his externship provided practical, “on-the-ground” experience which complemented the more academic work being done in the classroom.
When describing his favorite part of the externship, Clayton explained,“The obvious answer is probably one of the actual sets of court proceedings I got to see. […] There’s something surprisingly engaging about trying to determine exactly who said what, or forgot to inform the jury of this or that, during the original trial. It’s basically a scavenger hunt.”
Isabel Cristo ‘18, a New York native, did her externship at the headquarters of the YWCA (Youth Women’s Christian Association) of the City of New York, the oldest women’s organization in the country. CEO Danielle Moss Lee ‘90 is a Swat alumna. “I cannot stress enough how inspirational and generous these women were,” Cristo said.
Like Clayton and Helmy, Cristo was exposed to a wide variety of experiences in her week-long work with the YWCA. These included a meeting at the UN to discuss the “intersection of gender equity and religion in the YWCA,” a visit to a YWCA-run early learning center, and a stop at a leadership program for girls of high school age.
“The ladies of the YWCA spent much of their time and considerable clout to expose us to as many facets of their organization as possible, and as a result, we were able to have a seat at tables where important decisions were being made,” Cristo said.
The week-long, intensive experience provided Cristo with invaluable insight and experience into how nonprofits work on a day-to-day basis. “As someone who has considered going into the nonprofit sector, and someone who is particularly interested in women’s health and anti-racist work, this externship was the perfect opportunity to see how a nonprofit functions,” she said.
Cristo’s externship helped clarify her career goals while introducing her to a team of engaging and encouraging leaders. For her and other Swarthmore students, one week can have a lasting impact.
Featured image by Natasha Chak ’18/The Daily Gazette.