For many MIT students, the annual Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January serves as a short-term break from all things MIT. But for five MITers who spent IAP at NASDAQ’s Boston office, it was the opposite: strangers-turned-friends who spent nearly the entire month working side-by-side.
“I didn’t even know there would be other students going in to it,” says Bryan Williams ’16. “But by the end, we were inseparable—lunch together, same meetings, and helping each other out whenever it was needed.”
Williams was part of a group that also included Stanley Cen ’18, Berj Chilingirian ’16, Joey Conway G, and Uma Girkar ’17 who worked with NASDAQ through the Alumni Association’s Externship Program, which places MIT students in alumni-sponsored externships (short-term internships) around the globe. This year’s program featured nearly 400 students—including 45 graduate students—working at 278 companies in 16 states and seven countries.
“There was definitely a shared connection from the beginning,” Chilingirian. “We didn’t know each other, but when I’m working with someone from MIT, I have an inherent trust that they’re capable. It was amazing what we accomplished together in a short time.”
The MIT students spent the externship in a shared office collaborating together and working on individual projects, like creating an app that could help NASDAQ’s sales team predict customer behavior.
“We hit the ground running from the first day,” says Chilingirian, “We got a rough outline of the work that needed to be done and our team was motivated to attack the presented problems. They basically said, ‘Here’s what we can give you—what can you do with it?’”
Each student served a played a different role in the group. For example, Conway, and MBA candidate, acted as de fact project manager while Cen, a first-year undergraduate, focused on programming.
“I’ve basically been programming since the fourth grade,” says Cen. “And our group was able to produce a list customers that were likely candidates to cancel in the next month. We definitely learned a lot and got a lot done.”
The paid externship was sponsored by NASDAQ EVP and CIO Brad Peterson SM ’89, P ’16, who connected with the students throughout their stay at NASDAQ and helped craft their work environment.
“They made a tremendous amount of progress in the time that they were there,” Peterson says. “We built their stay on what we had learned in previous non-MIT externships. Working without structure is unfair to students, so we made sure to maximize their time while they were there.”
Peterson initially connected with the program through his daughter, an MIT student who previously participated in an externship, and his MIT classmate David Birnbach SM ’89, a lecturer at MIT Sloan, who helped facilitate the interview process and connect NASDAQ with MIT.
“I was interested in helping facilitating work experiences for current students and I knew NASDAQ would be a perfect fit,” Birnbach says. “It was great to see how much impact they were able to make after starting at zero on day 1. Everyone was impressed with how cohesive they were as a group.”
A few months removed from IAP—and more than halfway through the spring semester—the MIT group has remained in touch and often connect on MIT campus.
“It was cool to work with other MIT students outside of classroom,” says Cen. “They definitely have a high amount of drive, which is something you might not see too many other places.”