Grinnell students get an up-close view of a career for a few days through the externship program. The three- to five-day externship experiences during spring break involve shadowing an alumni professional through a normal day’s activities. This includes a home stay so “students can observe how the career commitment fits into a lifestyle,” says Kelly Guilbeau, assistant director of advising and exploration with the Center for Careers, Life and Service

Testing the Waters at Work and Home

“We emphasize the home stay in order for students to experience the holistic nature of the job, the work/life balance, and have conversations around the dinner table,” Guilbeau explains. That way students know what they are signing up for if they decide to pursue that career.

Alumni hosts are recruited during fall semester for spring break externships. Students submit an application for their top choice, along with a resume and response to essay questions. A campus selection committee then pairs students with alumni based on set criteria.  

“We recruit alumni in a variety of work situations, from formal office or clinic settings to shared workspaces or no office and in a variety of lifestyles. We’re always getting more referrals based on positive experiences,” Guilbeau says. The program offers more than 100 externship possibilities.

“For students, it’s an opportunity to clarify their career exploration and interests, and for alumni, it’s giving back,” Guilbeau says. “Alumni get a lot out of it too — it’s rejuvenating and reinvigorating to reflect on why they got into their professions in the first place. Many move from externship sponsor to mentor to colleagues, making it a fit on all levels.”

An Extern and an Alum who Really Clicked

Miranda Thomas ’17 and Sara Mathews ’82 exemplify that “fit on all levels.”

In 2015, Thomas, a biology major who had veterinary medicine in mind since 7th grade, was matched with Mathews, a Vero Beach, Fla., veterinarian. Mathews and her husband own and operate a small animal hospital, in addition to her pro bono work for trap/neuter/release animals.

Thomas says her externship with Mathews “showed that my skill set and interests aligned with vet med but maybe not in a clinical setting. An externship can also teach you what you don’t want to do. When I shadowed with Sara, we were with animals and clients all day, every day,” Thomas recalls. Now in her first year at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, she is leaning toward research and possibly nongovernmental organization work in an international practice.

Mathews has hosted four externs to date. “Grinnell was such an amazing experience for me that I feel I have a lot to give back,” she says. “I learn as much from the students as I give. I continue to be impressed by the quality and well-rounded nature of the students I see. I’m always a little sad when they leave.”

A Lasting Connection Between Alumni 35 Years Apart

The connection forged between these two Grinnellians — both raised in Iowa, biology majors at Grinnell, and Iowa State vet students — led to Thomas asking Mathews to participate in her white coat ceremony, the rite-of-passage entry into the profession.

“It was an incredible honor to be asked,” Mathews says. “I respect Miranda and will continue to encourage young men and women in the profession, just as my own parents were encouraging to me.”

Thomas says, “I chose Sara for my white coat ceremony because I value her opinion and the symbolism of both of us choosing Grinnell and Iowa State. She’s so successful and loves what she does. I hope it’s good karma.

“Grinnell alumni are so amazing with keeping strong relationships and making sure others have opportunities. Externships allow you to check out all different kinds of possibilities, especially in the health professions. I want to do this in a few years when I can offer experience too.” 

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