March 05, 2004

Spring break means externships for 200 SIUC students

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - They could be soaking up rays along the Florida or Texas coastlines during spring break. Instead, about 200 Southern Illinois University Carbondale students next week are going to the likes of Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis and even Juneau, Alaska for the chance to apply what they are learning in the classroom to a professional work environment.

For 20 years, SIUC's extern program has been matching juniors and seniors with sponsors from businesses throughout the country to enhance a student's career development.

The program's success is continuing, said Tuesday L. Ashner, director of Campus Alumni Programs. In the last four years, 33 percent of students who participated later received internship or employment offers from the company they visited.

This year, 120 firms in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan, Colorado and California are hosting externs. Students are responsible for travel expenses and accommodations.

Students are spending their week with such firms as Boeing in St. Louis, ATA Airlines and the Art Institute of Chicago, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis and Denver International Airport. In addition to numerous companies throughout Southern Illinois, Coca-Cola and InterContinental Hotels Group in Atlanta, Sporting News Radio in Northbrook and Wings of Alaska in Juneau, also are hosting students.

The SIU Alumni Association established the nationally recognized program in 1984, and

administers the program in conjunction with the SIUC's undergraduate colleges and the Student Alumni Council. The program has grown from 17 students in 1987 to close to 200 students again this year.

The experience students receive in just five days is immeasurable, Ashner said.

They get to use what they have learned out of the textbook; they see somebody putting it to use," she said. "Any exposure to a true work environment is beneficial to a student."

Ashner is kept busy finding sponsors to fill a student's particular objective. For the first time this year there are five fashion design students participating in the program.

A sponsor's primary responsibility is making sure students come away with more knowledge about the subject matter. Many sponsors use the opportunity as a way to look for future employees, Ashner said.

The program simulates a career search. Students are initially asked for places where they might like to work, and are asked to specify a desired geographic area because they are responsible for their own expenses. Once a prospective sponsor is found, students fill out applications, submit resumes and are interviewed. In some cases, the companies conduct separate interviews.

That is how serious companies take this program," Ashner said.

Gregory A. Scott, the Alumni Association's director of public relations, believes the practical experience that students receive provides a future edge.

Students are garnering experience during spring break that demonstrates a commitment to their career field," he said. "If you look at a student's resume after they graduate and you see they have worked through spring break to get more experience, I would think as an employer you look at that."

Boeing in St. Louis, a regular sponsor, is hosting 16 externs, including students from the colleges of Applied Sciences and Arts, Business and Administration, Engineering, Liberal Arts, and Science. One of the externs is hearing impaired and SIUC's Disability Support Services office assisted the program by providing an interpreter.

Wings of Alaska Airlines, a commuter, charter and cargo airline, provides service to southeast Alaska. Two aviation flight students, Ryan L. Roth, a senior from Springfield, and Kyle Lukey, a senior from Harvard, each wanted to fly in other than flat terrain areas.

Roth and Lukey will not physically fly the planes, but they hope to shadow a different pilot each day, and fly in the co-pilot's seat in both land and sea aircraft, said Lukey.

In addition to job shadowing the pilots they will help load and unload the planes, and experience a different kind of flying, said J. Michael Stedman, vice president of flight operations. As opposed to Illinois' generally flat terrain, the single-engine planes will maneuver over mountains and water at altitudes ranging from 500 feet to 7,000 feet above the surface, Stedman said.

Although this is Sporting News Radio's first time with the extern program, the company employs three SIUC alums, said senior producer Nick Pavlatos.

We've had pretty good success with SIUC students," said Pavlatos. "I would like to give these guys a chance. I like seeing people learning things."

The two externs from the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts will do such varied tasks as learning to use the digital editing system, cutting interviews and highlights and helping with show material. That includes projects and research related to the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament.

I usually get them pretty well involved in things. They don't get a chance to sit on their hands," said Pavlatos.

Alumni are important, and sponsoring an extern is an integral way for many to support the University, Ashner said.

Brad Fox is a 1979 SIUC graduate in radio and television, and vice president and partner in Chicago-based Big Shoulders Digital Video Productions, a full-service TV production company. Two students will shadow staff with an emphasis on location productions and interactions with clients, producers and crew. The company also supports the University's summer internship program.

I think any exposure that alumni can give to students to help show them what the working world is like is helpful," said Fox, who has five other SIUC graduates working for the company.

Providing opportunities for students and meeting and exceeding their expectations is among the goals of Southern@150, the long-range blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th birthday in 2019.

For more information about the extern program, contact Tuesday L. Ashner at 618/453-2417.