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Winter Externship Adventures

March 20, 2013
By Jaye Lawrence

Carleton’s long winter break is a prime time for job-shadowing externships. 

Some students get bored during Carleton’s six-week winter break. Others get to work. Meet three students who discovered that time flies when you’re immersing yourself in a prospective career (with the help of savvy alumni mentors) 

The mentor externship program pairs students with alumni volunteers whose jobs are similar to the students’ future career interests. Students shadow their alumni hosts at their workplaces, typically for 1-4 weeks, getting an insider’s view of a specific career without the months-long commitment of an internship. Externships also include a home-stay in which students reside with their alumni hosts (or sometimes other alumni in the area).

Jonathan Hillis ‘13 and Michael Martin ‘09
Braemar Energy Ventures: Clean Energy Venture Capitalism

Jonathan Hillis ‘13 didn’t know much about venture capitalism before his externship this winter. “I didn’t have any idea how it actually worked,” he admitted. “I just had this general impression that it was a sexy way for new companies to get money.”

But something about the externship at Braemer Energy Ventures hit a sweet spot for Hillis, an Environmental Studies and Political Science major with a keen interest in the intersection of entrepreneurship and environmentalism. So he decided to apply—and promptly caught the eye of his soon-to-be mentor, Michael Martin ‘09. 

“Jonathan was an exceptionally strong candidate,” said Martin, a senior associate at Braemar.  “Alumni looking at this program might worry that an extern will get in their way. But I could tell Jonathan wasn’t going to be a burden. He had the skills to really bring something to the position.” 

The next thing Hillis knew, Martin was handing him a stack of “pitch books”—proposals from start-up companies seeking capital—with the exhortation to “find us the next big thing.” 

“No pressure, right?” Hillis said with a laugh. 

“So I dove in. I picked out some companies that looked interesting, and started poring over their projected revenues and experimental new technologies. Then I went back to Michael. He’d push me and bounce questions off me. ‘What does their management team look like? Is this a viable technology?’ He was great. 

“Then he gave me an even bigger stack.” 

This might sound like trial by fire for some, but Hillis thrived on it. “I learned so much about how venture capital works,” he said. “It was amazing. Before Braemar, I hadn’t looked at opportunities in finance at all. After Braemar, that’s completely changed. I saw the impact you can make in that space—the difference it can make in the world.” 

For Hillis, the weeks at Braemar were a chance to immerse himself in a fascinating new career option. For Martin, it was a chance to give back to Carleton. 

“I attribute much of my life today to Carleton,” Martin said. “And as it happens, I was one of the first wave to benefit from the reinvented Career Center. These externships are a great way for me to help out on the other side.” 

Ben Caffrey ‘14 and Bill Mague ‘90
Artspace Projects, Inc.: Nonprofit Real Estate Development for the Arts

Today, Bill Mague ‘90 is a vice president and portfolio director for Artspace Projects, Inc., a nonprofit real estate developer that controls over $300 million in arts-related real estate. But he still remembers what it was like to be a lowly intern. 

“My entry into my own career path was through an internship,” Mague said. “So I’m a real believer in the value of these experiences.” 

To give a similar boost to the next generation of Carls, Mague offered up the externship position filled this winter by Ben Caffrey  ‘14, a math major. 

“My approach was to have Ben jump in the deep end of the pool,” Mague said. “Right off the bat, I immersed him in the real work to see how he’d respond. I tried to draw on his quantitative skills and interests.” 

For one project, Caffrey helped analyze the financial incentives for the sustainable renovation of historic buildings.  “I calculated the savings they’d have over 30 years, from energy savings and tax credits,” Caffrey said. “That was one of the cooler projects, and I did a lot of preliminary speculative work.” 

But as a mentor, Margue also wanted to be sure his extern saw the big picture.  “I wanted to give him a sense of how the concepts he’s learning at Carleton can be carried into a career—not just in the big-money world of finance, but in places with a social justice mission.” 

Caffrey found that mix of math and mission compelling at Artspace Projects. “I really liked the flavor of Bill’s work,” he said. “It’s math related and quantitative, but with an underlying theme of arts funding. In the long term, I aspire to do something that combines hard science with the end goal of something beneficial to society. So this was a great fit for me.” 

Outside of his project work, Caffrey especially appreciated his one-on-one conversations with Mague. 

“Bill would take me into his office and talk about every aspect of the business. He also talked a lot about his career trajectory, and how he feels about the path he took to where he is today. He was so generous with his time.” 

Maddie Epping ‘13 and Jane Hoyt Buckner ‘83
Benaroya Research Institute: Exploring the World of Medical Research

When Jane Hoyt Buckner ‘83 reviewed the applications for her externship position, she looked for a quality that doesn’t usually attract prospective employers: Uncertainty. 

“I deliberately tried to select someone who wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted yet,” said Buckner, Director of Translational Research at  Benaroya Research Institute.

Why? “Because I remember being clueless about my own career options. I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for medical school. I wanted to offer some perspective to a student at the stage where they have to decide on a path.” 

That perspective is essential in the field of medicine, Buckner explained, because the path in question is so very long. “You spend so many years in school,” she said. “Physicians complete their training when they are 32 or older. An academic may be in their late 30s before they become established in their career. It’s important to have a sense of what the future job looks like before you make that commitment.” 

With that in mind, Buckner designed the one-week externship position as a sampler of careers in medical research, with a different focus every day. That proved to be a perfect fit for extern Maddie Epping ‘13, who thrived on the diversity of experiences. 

“Jane gave me the opportunity to learn from a wide range of BRI staff members,” Epping said. “I was able to not only observe time spent in the clinic and lab, but also to explore what constituted an entire day in the life of a translational researcher. 

“My interactions with these research physicians and scientists gave me insights into a multitude of new career paths—and let me explore which would suit me best.” 

As a result, the uncertainty Buckner detected in Epping’s original application seems to be nowhere in evidence today. 

“My externship confirmed my desire to obtain an MD to pursue translational research,” Epping said with confidence. “I have a much better understanding of what it takes to be successful, and of the obstacles involved.” 

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This page was last updated on 5 February 2016