NEXT emphasizes career exploration and alumni connection


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Northwestern Career Advancement. The Northwestern Externship program allows students to shadow an alumni at their place of work for a day.

Rayna Song, Reporter

Student participants in the Northwestern Externship Program said they were able to explore their interests and industries as they shadowed an alumni for one day at their companies.

NEXT connects Northwestern students with alumni from a variety of professional backgrounds. Alumni with degrees from all programs and schools can participate as mentors, mentees or both, while current students can participate as mentees.

Eleni Vartelas, assistant director at Northwestern Career Advancement, said between 320 to 360 Northwestern students participate in the externship program each year.

“The purpose of NEXT is to provide a point of career exploration for students,” Vartelas said. “(Students) are there to learn the industry, the company, and really see if this is going to be a good fit for them.”

Weinberg sophomore Tony Hao participated in NEXT last year. He said he shadowed a senior staffer at Bank of America in Chicago.

“My favorite part about the program is the opportunity to take an insider look at the company that I am interested in and to talk directly with the alumni working there,” Hao said.

For Hao, it was important to see firsthand recent cases and detailed information of the industry, which allowed him to better understand what a career at Bank of America entails, he said.

The externship program is open to graduate students as well as undergraduates. Nancy Chen, a second-year graduate student studying engineering, shadowed John Schmitt (Kellogg ‘97), a wealth management advisor for Bank of America.

“It is hard to acquire information about private banks on the Internet.” Chen said. “When I did the externship, the alumni showed us the financial transactions or investments of his clients, whose personal information is taken off, of course.”

Chen added that this information would be difficult to obtain in the public sphere, and even if she did find some information, it would be outdated.

Chen said her mentor gave her contemporary information about private banks, which was really important to help her better understand the industry.

“I am really grateful for the opportunity,” Chen said. “A lot of opportunities are reserved for undergraduates. As a graduate student, I was able to apply to the program and I have learned a lot from this externship.”

Chen expressed that there is one aspect that she hoped would improve in the future. She said it took a long time to set a date for the externship. A mentor may take multiple mentees at the same time, and in Chen’s case, she shadowed alongside three other students. Because of class conflicts, it was difficult to agree on a time.

Vartelas added that by the end of this one-day externship, students may form great connections with their mentors.

“Students often go into (the program), thinking that they might be interested in one career in X industry, and then they find out that ‘You know what, I didn’t really love it, I thought that it would be different,’” Vartelas said. “Or they see it as an opportunity to explore an area in that field.”

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