Getting the right foot in the door over Spring Break

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Getting the right foot in the door over Spring Break

March 04, 2015, Katja Sonkeng

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Scott Polczynski spent his junior year spring
break as an extern for the St. Louis Rams

Especially after the release of the movie “Spring Breakers” in 2013, traditional spring breaks have acquired a bad reputation from students’ trips to infamous party destinations such as Daytona Beach, Florida, and South Padre Island, Texas.

However, more than 100 students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, including 20 juniors and seniors from the College of Business, will not be among those crowds. Instead, they will participate in the weeklong SIU Extern Program administered through the SIU Alumni Association. Established in 1984, the mini-internship placement program provides students a unique opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom in a professional work environment.

Last year, one of the 28 participants coming from the College of Business was Mustafa “MJ” Abdullah Jr. The senior marketing major from Zion, Illinois, spent his last spring break as an extern with the Chicago-based nonprofit marketing and communications firm, Lipman Hearne.

“I was involved from day one,” Abdullah said. “It was great to see how my work benefited the nonprofit clients I was working with, and how it helped them achieve their goals. Based on this externship, I am considering a career in marketing communications for not-for-profit organizations.”

Although the application process is still underway, the College of Business is leading all other SIU departments in the number of students who will be working with companies such as Deloitte, CareerBuilder, JobBound, Securities America, Boing and Black Diamond Harley-Davidson, all big names in the corporate world.

“A lot of the participating companies have ties to SIU, so it’s a tightened group of Salukis,” said Jill Gebke, assistant dean of student services at the College of Business.

Serving primarily as a networking component, the externship further provides students a unique opportunity to get a taste of what their chosen professional field might be like.

“It is a hands-on, real-life job experience for a week with a real employer, so it’s a weeklong investment of the students’ time rather than a full semester,” Gebke said. “And it can help students to make connections in a workplace to apply for an internship or job after they complete their degree. But it also serves as an educational component, so when they realize in the process of the externship that this is not exactly what they looking for, they still have time to come back, research other career paths, and then alter their education while they’re still in college, rather than after.”

Employers, on the other hand, get to see students in action.

“Think of a weeklong job interview,” Gebke said. “So instead of meeting with someone for an hour, they get a weeklong experience with the student to assess his or her abilities, and that’s a really good opportunity for them to observe an employee for a week and determine whether the student might be a great fit for the company in the future. No cost, no risk.”

The SIU spring break mini-internships are a win-win for students and employers. The best part is that it’s an easy application procedure: Anyone who is at least a junior and has at least a GPA of 2.5 can apply.

“Just fill out the form, and then you go through an interview process to make sure it’s going to be a good fit,” Gebke said.

The only catch is that all costs for transportation and housing are on the students.

“Unfortunately, it’s an expensive program,” she said. “But it’s such a valuable opportunity.”

Gebke strongly encourages the students to plan for it and take advantage of it.

“Last year, over 50 percent of our students walked away from the externship with an internship or job offer,” she said.

Scott Polczynski, a Master of Accountancy student from DuBois, Illinois, spent his junior year spring break as an extern for the St. Louis Rams at their training facilities in Earth City, Missouri: “I really wanted to do something with sports, and it became a reality,” he said.

For more information on the Externship Program, please visit the SIU Alumni Association Website or stop by the Business Placement Center at Rehn Hall.