The Columns

W&L Internship Program Seeks Listings from Alumni and Parents

— by on August 18th, 2011

While researching internships online last spring, then junior Lev Raslin zeroed in on a program offered by Densebrain Inc. in Manhattan. “The company name stuck out,” said Raslin, “and when I read about it I saw that they made one of the apps that I use, NYCMate, which is basically a collection of all New York City public transit maps.”

Raslin, a member of the Class of 2012, found the Densebrain listing on the W&L Internship and Opportunity Initiative (IOI) webpage. IOI, now entering its second year, is a student-led effort to find and promote summer internships using the University’s network of alumni and parents. The internship with Densebrain – a digital ideas agency that develops mobile apps – was listed by Alex Cruikshank, a member of W&L’s Class of 1994.

“I reached out to W&L, to NYU, to Columbia,” said Cruikshank, a management consultant who worked with Densebrain this spring. “The quality of resumes from W&L was very high.” Cruikshank, together with Densebrain’s CEO and lead designer, interviewed Raslin in May in New York City. The company offered Raslin the internship on the spot, and he started a few days later.

Densebrain’s position was one of 29 internships posted on the IOI website its inaugural year. To collect these listings, a team of undergraduates – called city coordinators -contacted alumni in seven target cities: Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Charlotte, Washington, Louisville, and Richmond, Va. The organizers recently added New York City.

“We didn’t quite meet our goal of 30 or 35, but considering where we started off, with zero, ending with 29 is still something. We consider it a success,” said senior Mac Davis, who created the IOI program after his own stressful search for an internship. Listings ranged from a communications internship with Westvaco in Covington, Va., to a placement in the mayor’s office in Boston.

This year, to bump up the number of listings and placements, Davis is narrowing the program’s focus. New internships will target sophomores, who may be more open to a variety of summer work experiences. Juniors are often looking for specialized internships closely linked to a specific career path, said Beverly Lorig, director of career services at W&L, whose office is working with the IOI team. Sophomores can also use the internships as building blocks. “With the push on getting experience, someone who does an internship as a sophomore is going to be in a better position to get a highly desirable internship as a junior,” said Lorig.

The IOI internships are not-for-credit and most are unpaid. They can be new internships or well established. Structure and length are flexible too. “We’ve tried to say to the people, and to the students who are writing these pitches, we will tailor this to fit your needs,” said Lorig. “These are simply designed to give students experience.”

The city coordinators attended a communications seminar this spring. During the seminar, Jeb Brooks, of the Class of 2005, a sales training specialist, helped them hone their phone skills. “Younger salespeople aren’t as comfortable on the phone as a result of the technologies they can use to avoid the phone. So we talked a lot about some real tactical moves that you can make to be effective on the phone, because it’s real easy to delete an e-mail,” said Brooks. “And it’s probably not going to be effective to shoot a text to a CEO who might be interested in hiring an intern.”

The re-tooled program will also have more structure, with city coordinators operating under set deadlines. The coordinators, in turn, will work with alumni and parents, helping them set up internships and offering advice. Openings, for example, should be listed early in the school year. “A lot of what we’re going to be doing is providing guidance to a lot of the smaller companies that have never really had an internship program,” said Davis.

There will also be more oversight of individual listings. “We’re going to have a much stronger system of keeping up with the employers and the students who applied for these positions, to make sure W&L students are actually getting hired,” said Davis. On the flip side, Davis and the 14 city coordinators will be looking out for the alumni and parents who post openings. Not every internship position will be filled, Davis said, but “we will do our best to try to make sure that every person who lists something with us has at least several applicants.”

Raslin, a double major in politics and anthropology, was interested in an internship because he wanted to supplement his analytical skills with hands-on, real-world business experience. He got that opportunity at Densebrain, where he helped prep an interactive campaign for a high-profile client.

“I’m thankful that W&L facilitates a program like this,” said Raslin. “I think it opens up doors where students A, might not find them or B, might not have them otherwise.”

— by Amy Balfour ’89, ’93L