There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything your company needs to get done. But give them four short weeks and MIT students can offer impressive results on some of those more challenging projects.
Here are four examples, written by alumni, of how their companies sought out students for a win-win experience: students discovered real-world applications of their classroom learnings while alumni benefitted from the special expertise students brought to their work.
This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who were involved in the 2012 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved. This is just one way for alumni to interact with MIT students. Learn about other opportunities.
Guest blogger: Adam Blake MBA ’11, marketing director, ThriveHive
My initial exposure to the MIT Student-Alumni Externship Program came as a participant during my first semester as an MBA student. I instantly fell in love with the program because of the opportunity it provided to gain exposure to not only a new industry, but also a new culture, a challenging project, and everything else that comes from working in a new company.
Fast forward a couple years, and when the opportunity to be a sponsor for the program arose, my classmate and coworker Max Faingezicht MBA ’11 and I jumped at the chance to sponsor some current students. After the MBA program we both joined a small-business-marketing software startup in Cambridge called ThriveHive, and we knew there were an almost limitless number of projects we could put together for current students. We posted a couple of relatively broad job descriptions to try to attract the most creative and motivated students. After meeting with a few applicants, we designed projects that we felt would match the passion of the students while simultaneously meeting the real needs of our startup. We don’t have the resources to waste time with students just hanging around the office, so everyone had to be working on important projects.
Our externs were Brent Wu MBA ’13, Deborah Chen ’14, and Xenia Antipova ’13. Brent, a first-year Sloanie, made use of his business background to put together a go-to market kit for one of our target markets. Deborah, a Course 6 sophomore who has already acquired some strong database skills, tackled a very challenging project centered on optimizing the complex backend of our software. Xenia, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in architecture, used her analytical design skills to devise better ways for us to visualize our customer facing data.
Startups never have enough bandwidth to get everything done on the wish list, and finding enough smart and motivated people to solve problems is always a challenge. With the addition of our externs, January was full of energy and progress. Three or four weeks is a short amount of time for students to come up to speed and actually accomplish something, but it’s absolutely doable. We’re looking forward to participating again next year.
Guest blogger: Vesta Marks ’00, portfolio manager, UCM Partners, LP
This was the third time UCM Partners has participated in the Student/Alumni Externship Program, and I can say with confidence that this experience was our best thus far. The most impactful difference was that we were able to host two students this year—Diana Hsieh ’13 and Michael Farid ’14—as opposed to just one.
Within the first two days, I was reminded how quickly MIT students self-organize into a team dynamic that fosters collaboration, idea sharing, and specialization. This ethos propelled our externs along the learning curve much more quickly than if they would have been working singly. It was impressive to see how quickly the team-oriented approach took root and observing it provided me with a pleasant reminder of the culture that exists on campus.
Our approach was to assign projects framed around the edge of students’ current capabilities with the goal of expanding their boundaries while producing something that enhances our company’s platform. Just like prior externs, Diana and Michael were able to contribute from the onset. They materially improved their spreadsheet and database-development skills while gaining exposure and experience in a niche segment of the investment management industry. By the end, they were asking challenging questions and learning about specific features of mortgages and related securities.
Fortunately for Diana and Michael it was not a month of all work and no play in Orlando. Michael visited theme parks on a few occasions and both students attended an Orlando Magic basketball game. All in all, we’re glad to have participated in the externship program again this year and look forward to doing so again in the future.
Well, I promised that I would say it, so here it is: they were the best externs ever. In all seriousness, Diana and Michael demonstrated an excellent example of synergy and provided this sponsor with a welcomed sense of nostalgia for MIT culture.
Guest blogger: Jeremy Bratt MBA ’10, business analyst, Thoughtforms
Thoughtforms is a leading custom homebuilder in the Boston area known for delivering exceptional quality and an ability to construct seemingly unbuildable designs. During January IAP, we were fortunate to partner with three outstanding MIT students—Sean Grundy MBA ’13, Zachary Mallow MBA ’13, and Megan Cox ’14. Sean and Zachary teamed up to assess Thoughtforms’ sustainability initiatives and opportunities to adopt new processes and technologies. Megan developed a strategy to strengthen our online marketing efforts.
As builders, we often find that programmatic decisions that impact sustainability have been hard-coded into the design by clients and architects. Therefore, Sean and Zachary focused on aspects of sustainability that Thoughtforms can influence more effectively through our subcontractor base. They structured their analysis around three core concepts: building efficiency, use of natural materials, and ecological impact of materials and processes. Then, based on interviews and research, they developed a set of short- and long-term recommendations, including strategies to educate clients, architects, employees, and subcontractors about sustainable options.
Most of Thoughtforms’ new business comes from word-of-mouth referrals, and as a result, our online presence has languished. This gave Megan a relatively clean slate as she assessed opportunities to improve the consistency of our online message and quality of our online client interactions. Megan surveyed competitor behavior and general trends and contrasted her findings with Thoughtforms’s current online presence. She then identified opportunities for Thoughtforms to differentiate itself by refocusing and sharpening its online presence across various platforms.
We are extremely grateful to Sean, Zachary, and Megan for their hard work and thoughtfulness throughout IAP. Not only did they help to generate significant internal momentum, they presented tangible steps that we can take to further our efforts in sustainability and online communication. And, their presence raised the number of MIT students/alumni to more than 10 percent of our total staff (11.3 percent to be a bit more precise)!
Guest blogger: Curtis Cook ’06, director, Armored Wolf, LLC, an investment management firm
As an MIT Educational Counselor, I have had many opportunities to meet prospective MIT applicants. But I rarely get the opportunity to interact with current students. This alone was more than enough reason for me to sign up as an externship sponsor. However, I must say that having an extern from MIT is a Pareto optimal experience. MIT students are intelligent self starters, but they still require guidance with real-world applications.
I was matched with Dennis Smiley, a Course 6 sophomore, who arrived eager to work at my California-based startup hedge fund, Armored Wolf. We spent a short time going over my plan for his tenure—four projects of increasing difficulty that would each take approximately a week to complete. The first project was to create an engine to run regressions against data to essentially do a curve fit against live data. I provided him some light reading and examples, with which he dove right into the project. We met periodically to go over progress and discuss any issues that he was having with the program. He approached it with an MIT-level of intellectual curiosity.
Overall, it has been extremely rewarding to work as a mentor. Through the course of the externship, it became apparent that I had connected the dots between some of the classes he had taken (i.e. 18.06, Linear Algebra) and some of the real-world applications to which the coursework pertains. I strongly suggest that everyone gives this a try, as I am sure I will continue to be an externship sponsor during future IAPs.