Students Explore Careers Through Externship Program
By Cristy Lytal
Instead of working on their tans, 79 students from the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development (SPPD) spent spring break working with government agencies, nonprofits or consulting firms through the school’s Externship Program.
The SPPD Office of Career Services matches undergraduate and graduate students with host organizations across the nation based on their skills and interests. The students spend three to five days working on substantive projects and gaining real-world exposure to jobs relevant to their studies. At the same time, the professional hosts have an extended opportunity to evaluate the students’ potential as future employees or interns.
“It’s a wonderful experience, and it’s really tailored to what you want to do on the individual level,” said Master of Public Policy (MPP) student John Roberson, who spent time at B&D Consulting in Washington, D.C. “I hope other students take advantage of the opportunity.”
Fortunately, other students are. SPPD’s program has grown 88 percent since 2009, with 79 of its students participating this year.
Over the years, the program has evolved from “job shadowing” to a more active work experience. During this most recent externship, students participated in a broad range of activities, such as working with clients, doing research, attending meetings and other functions, conducting informational interviews with their hosts and colleagues, and editing and proofreading materials.
“I did an externship with ICF International, an environmental consulting firm in Washington, D.C.,” said Ryan Park, an undergraduate in the public policy track with a minor in entrepreneurship. “I compiled information [about the buildings on USC’s medical and main campuses] and then scattered it on a data chart that indicated which buildings consume the most energy.”
Anbar Mahar, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) student with an emphasis in nonprofit management, spent her week at City Year in Washington, D.C., doing everything from proofreading grant proposals to visiting a school.
“I gained two things from it,” she said. “It was really inspiring to see how committed a whole group is to its organization and mission, and how that is carried out. So it reconfirmed that I want to work in nonprofits. It doesn’t matter which type of nonprofit it is as long as they’re doing something that has an impact in the community. And what was really interesting was to observe their organizational culture. It’s interesting to see how different nonprofits can run in different ways.”
In addition to providing substantive work experience, the program furnishes extensive networking opportunities.
“The Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C., has this really cool international trade department,” said MPP student Erica Valencia. “I was able to meet people who work there and make some really good connections.”
Raabia Budhwani, a Federal Highway Administration extern who is pursuing a dual MPA and Master of Planning degree, also enjoyed the opportunities to expand her professional network.
“I had the chance to attend a USC reception on Capitol Hill,” she said. “That was really inspiring because we have so many well-connected Trojans in the nation’s capital, which you don’t realize because you’re here in California. It was great.”
More than 90 percent of surveyed externs and hosts reported satisfaction with the experience. In a survey of 56 hosts, 93 percent were so pleased with their externs’ work that they would be willing to participate again next year.
Elissa Konove, chief financial officer at the Federal Highway Administration, has hosted externs two years in a row.
“What’s really nice about the extern program is these are people who want come to D.C.,” said Konove, who earned her MPP at SPPD. “They choose to do this. They come down here on their own time during spring break when they could be on a beach. So they’re obviously very interested in public policy and public service. That’s very energizing to me.”
For host Beena Patel, MPP alumna and assistant vice president at B&D Consulting, participation in the Externship Program is about giving back to a school that has given so much to her.
“I’ve lived the Trojan Family and experienced it, and I’ve gotten two jobs already in four years because of it,” she said. “When I reach out to people, I’ve always had a positive experience. I want to pass that on to current students, and be as helpful as I can and give back to USC and to the other alumni and students the way that everyone helped me.”
She added, “I loved grad school. It was a great experience for me, so it’s always nice for me to be on campus and be involved.”