A first-person account by externship participant Trang Nguyen ’17.

At 12, I wanted to become a mathematician. At 16, I studied English to become a diplomat. Now, at 19, I strive to do marketing.

It’s good to know what you like, isn’t it? But here is the fact: you don’t marry all of your crushes. You marry someone you like, who likes you back, and whose lifestyle matches yours. Likewise, not all interests can become your future career. Whether in relationships or a career, we all need a dating phase. And dating is fun!

One way Grinnell offers “career dating” is through its spring break job shadows, which it calls externships. Externships last 3–5 days and are offered by Grinnell alumni throughout the United States. Many include a home stay with the alum too.

So I scanned through the list of spring 2015 externship possibilities with the keyword “marketing.” I was quite surprised to come across an externship in Grinnell College’s Office of Communications because to me, communication is information driven rather than marketing related. I then looked it up on the Internet and discovered that marketing in education is really a thing. So why not give it a try?

This spring break I did a three-day externship with Michele Regenold ’89, editorial director at Grinnell.

Marketing in Higher Education

On the first day, Michele walked me through the concept of marketing in higher education. She explained how the Office of Communications represents Grinnell to alumni and prospective students on the website and in print materials. Within the office, different teams — editorial, web, media, and creative — collaborate with one another and with other offices, like Admission, to achieve marketing goals. “The editorial team writes stories for the web that match up with the admission cycle,” Michele says. “For example, this summer when prospective students visit campus, we’ll have some stories related to our location and facilities.”

Before the externship, I didn’t know that higher education involves such considerable and even sophisticated marketing strategies. “The way you promote a regional or local school is different from the way you promote a national or globally known one,” says Jim Powers, director of communications. To give prospective students the most accurate sense of the culture at Grinnell, the school has been working with a marketing firm that can understand Grinnellians well and produce materials that “feel like” Grinnell.

Exploring Possible Paths and Cool Things to Learn

Trang Nguyen ’17 I had the opportunity to talk to different teams in the office. Sarah Anderson ’98, Larissa Stalcup, and Adrienne Squier all studied marketing but they now have different specializations: Sarah coordinates the website, Larissa is a graphic designer, and Adrienne manages all social media platforms. Talking with them broadened my perspectives on possible options in a marketing career and gave me some guidelines about how I can prepare myself for each approach. Larissa introduced me to some design software and how to study it by myself. Adrienne shared some cool media tips and how to measure the effectiveness of media strategies quantitatively.

Sarah says, “Even though I’m in charge of studying web behaviors and brainstorming ideas, I still need to have some technical knowledge to know what is possible and what is not.” Taking her advice, I plan to take more computer science classes even though I’m more interested in the strategy part.

It was also very interesting to listen to stories behind the recent redesign of our website. Every single update on the content and design of our website involves lots of studies on brain development and web behaviors. Their explanation shows examples of practical applications of what I studied in my Introduction to Psychology course.

More than just an informational interview: Trying what I have never tried

An externship is also an opportunity for me to get some hands-on experiences. I shadowed Michele in two phone interviews. Interviewing someone for a story is really an art. It is not just a matter of asking the right questions; the interviewer must also keep control of the flow of the interview and keep the interviewee comfortable. “I do background research before interviews so I can ask thoughtful questions,” Michele says.

I also tried doing an interview by myself. I interviewed Kelly Guilbeau, career counselor in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, to get more information about the spring 2015 externship program. I asked her if externship hosts have as good of an experience as us students. Kelly says that most alumni externship hosts give positive feedback about it.

During the interview, Michele helped point out key ideas in Kelly’s answers and analyze important elements of an interview that I should take notice of. She said I did a good job so I guess I do have the potential.  

Although this three-day “date” cannot give me a clear answer to my career confusion, it shows me some hints to figure out the answer by myself.

Trang Nguyen ’17 is a mathematics major from Hanoi, Vietnam. The externship program is coordinated jointly by the CLS and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

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