Directed by LILAC (Bryn Mawr’s Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center), the Extern Program provides an opportunity for students to explore their desired field/s and get a firsthand look at the world after undergrad. During winter or spring break, externs shadow professionals (usually Bryn Mawr alumnae/i) in their workplace and throughout their normal routines; they have the chance to experience a regular workday and the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from sponsors and their colleagues.
For computer science major Tessa Pham ’20, a winter 2018 externship at McGraw Hill Education in Chicago with Ruth Czarnecki-Lichstein ’01 reaffirmed her belief that when it comes to career planning, keeping an open mind is key.
“I can always apply my skills and knowledge and learn many things from a new job as long as I have a growth mindset,” says Tessa. “When we had time to talk, Ruth told me about how her life had changed courses so many times after college and before she eventually found out what she really wanted to do."
Tessa was a first-time extern with Ruth, a math major who is also the president of the Bryn Mawr Club of Chicago. Ruth is a senior product manager at McGraw Hill and specializes in digital products for the higher-education math market.
Tessa spent her days shadowing Ruth as she worked with colleagues on a variety of projects. In addition, she was able to test products, provide project feedback, and speak to several of Ruth’s colleagues about their jobs.
“The job is very interdisciplinary and has many applications of both computer science and math,” says Tessa. “The best part was getting to test the products and to provide feedback. I was able to give more insight into the user experience as these products largely cater to the needs of college students like me. My background in math also helped me understand the products better.”
Ruth agrees that having someone from the product’s target demographic was a real bonus but adds that hosting Tess had many other benefits.
“On a personal note, it refreshed my enthusiasm, reminding me of how the work I do improves the lives of learners,” says Ruth. “I am so grateful that I was able to meet Tessa and learn more about her. I am continually impressed by Bryn Mawr women and look forward to participating in the extern program again.”
In addition to working together, Ruth took Tessa to a variety of different restaurants in Chicago so she could explore all the delicious food. One evening the pair had dinner with Melinda Tsang ’09, and Tessa’s host in Chicago, Jiji Plecha ’18.
“The four of us represented four different generations at Bryn Mawr College but we had so much to talk about: how the College has changed over the years, Bryn Mawr traditions, friends we've made, and the incredibly wide and welcoming network of Bryn Mawr alumnae,” says Tessa.
Tessa plans to continue studying computer science and to pursue other opportunities that allow her to obtain practical experience in the tech industry and other related fields.
“I’m so glad that LILAC designed such a great program for students to gain insights into the fields they are pursuing. The Externship Program not only offers an opportunity to take the first step into developing work experience but also helps foster a network and build relationships with Bryn Mawr alumnae.”