Annual Northwestern externship program allows career shadowing for students

Emily Chin, Assistant Campus Editor

The Northwestern Alumni Association and Northwestern Career Advancement are putting on the annual Northwestern Externship Program, which pairs NU alumni with students for a day of career shadowing. Students accompany alumni for a day to their job in places all over the United States to explore potential careers. 

Alumni were able to register for NEXT, which has been held for more than a decade, last week. As of Friday afternoon, 462 alumni had signed up, said Tracie Thomas, director of career development at NCA. 

“We’re looking for alumni who are interested in connecting with students, supporting them, providing mentorship, really making those connections where they can not only answer questions and be a resource but also provide students with practical experience on the job,” said Ben Hancock, associate director of alumni professional development at NCA.

Alumni come from all different fields, giving students an opportunity to explore a variety of career options, Thomas said.

“I think the best thing that students gain is an opportunity to build their professional network and explore careers in a meaningful way and gain exposure to multiple career fields,” she said. “I think just gaining exposure to different industries and different companies is a great way for students to gain knowledge of different career fields.”

Students have the option to complete applications for up to eight externships, which resemble an internship application. Alumni then receive these applications and decide who would be best fit for their particular externship.

SESP junior James Keane participated in the NEXT program last year by shadowing Roy Elvove (Communication ’75, Medill ’76), executive vice president of New York advertising agency BBDO Worldwide. Keane said the program exposed him to the world of advertising and helped him secure a summer internship.

Prior to the externship, Keane had trouble getting employers’ attentions because he had no connections. He “cold-emailed” employers without any previous history with them.

“I was just trying to find anyone who would take me under their wing,” he said.

Through NEXT, Keane was able to connect with Elvove, who said it was Keane’s proactivity and hands-on work during the externship that led him to extend an internship offer to him.

“In our department we meet as a group and everyday we review what’s going on. James participated in that meeting and asked questions,” Elvove said. “He got a sense for the magnitude and the volume of work that we’re handling and the diverse nature of them.”

Last year was Elvove’s first time participating in NEXT. He said he will participate this year as well.

“It was great because it was an opportunity for me to give something back to the University,” he said. “It was a chance for me to help a student and in the process expose them to it and get them excited about it.”

Keane said he was rewarded with the connections he got through the program and will apply again this year.

Applications for the program open Jan. 26. 

Keane also pointed out some “hidden gems” to the program last year. Adrienne Moore (Weinberg ’03), who plays Cindy “Black Cindy” Hayes in “Orange Is the New Black,” is an NU alum and offered the chance for students to meet the show’s cast and see the set.

“This was an opportunity that only people who look into the program saw,” Keane said.

Despite these opportunities, Thomas said the program isn’t particularly competitive, and that all students have a good chance of getting matched.

“It’s just important that students are connected with alumni,” she said.

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