Four students rode the rails of New York City with mortgage analyst Paul Van Valkenburg ’82 as the first participants in Carleton’s new Mentor Externship program
All in a day’s work: Participants in the pilot externship program spent time with host Paul Van Valkenburg ’82 at the office and at home. From left to right standing: Wei Qi Tan ’11, Landon Chan ’11, Van Valkenburg, Danielle Roper ’02 (who works at MIAC); from left to right, sitting: Jessica Brooks ’09, Anny Chou ’09
Jessica “JaeJae” Brooks ’09 discovered recently that an hour-long commute on crowded trains in New York City is not for her. While this may not seem like an earth-shattering revelation, the long train rides this recent Carleton graduate and native of Canton, Ohio, took to and from Wall Street during her two-week stint in Carleton’s Mentor Externship program reaffirmed her love of the Midwest.
“I learned that I do not want to live in New York,” Brooks says. “It would be an interesting place to be for a couple of years, but I definitely love the Midwestern lifestyle—it’s more laid-back and less stressful.”
Trustee Paul Van Valkenburg ’82 hosted Brooks and fellow students Landon Chan ’11 (Hong Kong), Anny Chou ’09 (Taipei, Taiwan), and Wei Qi Tan ’11 (Singapore) in December 2008 in the pilot externship program, which was launched by the Career Center during the 2008–09 academic year. The program matches students and alumni in a brief, immersive, relationship-centered experience that gives the students insight into a particular career and the people and lifestyle that might be associated with it. The students do projects in the alumni host’s workplace and usually stay as guests in the host’s home.
The students commuted by train with Van Valkenburg from his home on Long Island to his Wall Street–based consulting firm, Mortgage Industry Advisory Corporation (MIAC) Analytics, which licenses software and provides third-party appraisals of troubled mortgage securities. Van Valkenburg cofounded the company in 1989 after he spent seven years working in investment banking. Over the years, he has hosted several Carleton students in internships that followed the traditional model of workplace-only interaction.
After hearing Career Center director Richard Berman talk at a Board of Trustees meeting about his idea to start a program that exposed students to an alumnus’s work and home life, Van Valkenburg volunteered almost immediately to be a host. “I had to check with my wife,” he says, adding that she also embraced the idea. “We have three children. Two are away at college and one is at boarding school. We have an empty house, so we thought, why not host some smart, engaging Carleton students? And with Carleton being in Minnesota, I know it can be hard for students who are interested in Wall Street to get contacts in the financial world.”
While the students were working and living with Van Valkenburg, they got up at 7:00 a.m. each day and watched CNBC for financial news while they ate breakfast. On the train, they read the Wall Street Journal and chatted about the industry, arriving at the office by 9:00 a.m. After a long workday, they headed home around 7:00 p.m., eating a late dinner with the Van Valkenburgs and reflecting on their day.
Van Valkenburg also helped the students venture out into the city, obtaining tickets to a New York City Ballet performance, arranging meetings with other Carls who live in or were visiting New York, and encouraging them to see the sights.
Chan says the experience was an eye-opener. “Sometimes students have unrealistic expectations about working in New York City,” he says. “We think it’s going to be great, but we neglect to understand the basic, everyday details that aren’t so glamorous. I learned that it’s a pretty hectic life, and you’d better love your job.”
The students learned about the finance industry, particularly the mortgage sector, while they were working at MIAC Analytics. They completed a short-term database project under the direction of Danielle Roper ’02, a client liaison at MIAC. They networked inside and outside the company and gained valuable contacts, especially in Van Valkenburg.
“We built a good connection with Paul because we spent so much time [together],” Brooks says. “We got to talk with him about our families, where we came from, why we chose Carleton, what path he took after school, how he ended up on Wall Street—stuff you don’t always get to talk about in a traditional internship. We connected with Paul in a way that goes beyond just having an experience at his company, and he has a better view of us as whole people, too. He has become a mentor for all of us.”
Chan’s connections came in the form of “quants,” as he called Van Valkenburg’s colleagues who deal with large amounts of quantitative data. “I intend to be a math major,” he says, “and getting to know the quants was great. They will be a helpful resource to me if I decide to pursue a master’s degree in finance or financial engineering.”
Two other Carleton students participated in the inaugural externship program in addition to those in Van Valkenburg’s group. Derek Wallace ’92 hosted Ariel VandeVoorde ’09 (Houston) at Orange Business Solutions in London, and Adam Prawer-Stock ’95 hosted Steve Merry ’10 (Dellwood, Minn.) at Lincoln Financial Advisors in Chicago.
“Everyone at my company raved about the students, and it was fun getting to know them. I would definitely host externs again,” Van Valkenburg says.
And, in a classic example of “giving back,” both Brooks and Chan said they would consider hosting externs someday when they’re in a position to do so. Their experiences at MIAC Analytics are likely to help them reach that level someday. But for Brooks, at least, it won’t be in the Big Apple.