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Bold Futures externships triumph over cold air

January 16, 2014

Bold Futures logoBringing together students and alumni is one of the facets of the Bold Futures initiative on campus. Central to that pursuit is student career success.

The University Honors Program and NIU Alumni Association recently paired 14 students with NIU alumni and community partners in a successful pilot of the Bold Futures Externship Program, specifically designed to advance the goals and outcomes of the initiative.

Working in collaboration, the Alumni Association and University Honors solicited alumni and partner participation in the program from a broad array of fields, including government, fast food, education, advertising, health care, pharmaceuticals, investment, international affairs and finance.

Sudents were selected from among a pool of more than 40 applicants, all of them University Honors students.

J.D. Bowers, associate vice provost for University Honors, said he was thrilled to collaborate with the Alumni Association. “The resources and talent of our Alumni Association, which then capitalized on the resources and talent of our extensive and accomplished alumni and community partners base, was just phenomenal,” Bowers said. “We were given placements that few others could ever hope for, and this program, was all the better for it.”

The program spanned a full work-week of five days and 40 hours. The students commuted to their placements and then worked side-by-side with executives and leaders, learning about the breadth of the field, first-hand.

A Bold Futures banner in the MLK CommonsBy all accounts, it was a rousing success, tempered only by the Polar Vortex.

“After fighting the challenges that the weather presented, I believe we completed a very successful externship with Dan Jeffries and Kimberly Randall,” said Chris Cole, senior vice president and chief financial officer of McDonald’s U.S.A. “They were given a very broad exposure to many of our US leaders and most areas of our business.”

Cole said the students “seemed energized and excited about the experience, and felt that it provided them with not only great insights into McDonald’s, but also a much better understanding of what ‘working for a living’ is really like.”

Rob Metz, senior vice president of Horizon Pharma, who hosted sophomore engineering major Luis Lopez-Lazaro, thought that the program was a great success and noted that the students “represented the institution and Honors Program extremely well.”

During the program, students were also required to develop a series of professional materials for their future career portfolios, including an introductory letter, a resume, a list of questions for their mentor, research on their placement site and a formal thank-you letter. All of these will come to serve them well when they seek additional internships and apply for jobs or graduate school.

While the field component of the program is over, the students still have to complete some on-campus seminars, where they will further discuss their experiences and build a deeper understanding of careers and employment. The seminars will include brief readings about contemporary careers, the job market, and issues in the workplace, such as ethics, teamwork, and expectations.

In the end, they will all have a stronger foundation for their futures drawn from their newly acquired first-hand knowledge.

The Alumni Association, said Executive Director Joe Matty, is already gearing up for the next round of externships. “Experiences like this not only build a better bond between our students, alumni, community partners and NIU, but it also gives us a competitive edge in retaining our best students,” Matty said. “We will certainly be expanding this program and doing it again in the coming semesters.”

Jack Tierney, executive director of Invesco Ltd., echoed Matty’s comments. The program ensured that all involved “came away with a favorable impression of our company, industry and the opportunities for people in the investment management field,” Tierney said.

J.D. Bowers and Joe Matty

J.D. Bowers
and Joe Matty

The list of alumni and community partners and the students who participated is impressive.

Students interested in participating in future programs should call (815) 753-0694 or email [email protected]. Alumni or community partners who wish to participate should reach out to Matty at (815) 753-1452 or [email protected].