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College Row

Winter interns
This year's Winterns took time out from their jobs at Washington, D.C., nonprofit organizations to pose for a group photo.

Trying on the World

At a college already famous for the way it allows students to take responsibility for determining their own educations— from a no-core-curriculum policy to the high number of Special Topics courses that individual undergraduates design one-on-one with their professors—Interterm is perhaps the most independent part of the Amherst school year. An unstructured three-week period sandwiched between the fall and spring semesters, Interterm could, it is true, be used as an extended vacation; but for an increasing number of students, it has become an opportunity to try out potential post-graduation jobs. This was especially true during Interterm 2003, when several programs teamed students and alumni both on and off campus.

New this year was the Pre-Business Seminar, a three-week, on-campus course designed to give students an idea of how business careers work. Alums in the field spoke about nearly every business topic one could imagine, from venture capital and entrepreneurship to management and consulting; they served on panels, presented lectures and pointed out useful readings from the course’s text of choice, The Ten-Day MBA by Steven Silbiger. The seminar was organized by junior Paris Wallace, who said his hopes for the program were wildly exceeded. “When it first started, I was going to limit it to 40 students, and I had no idea there would be very many alums involved,” he said. “But it has become huge: 140 students, 35 alums. It went really, really well.”

Interterm offered the chance for students to gain the one thing an Amherst education does not ordinarily provide: real-life applications of theoretical business ideas, and the chance to talk to people who see them in action (for example, Robert Gibralter ’75 ’s step-by-step presentation of his 2000 Avon advertising campaign). “Amherst’s alums are its finest asset,” said Wallace. “I’m hoping people will leave with a basic business competency, and I’d like to do something again next year that involves bringing back alums who are both willing and able to teach students about their fields.” A new grant from the Mellon Foundation helped support the program, and will offer additional support for similar efforts over the next few years.

As business-oriented alumni and students came together on campus, a smaller group of alumni and students came together for the annual Winternship program in Washington, D.C. For three weeks, Winternship participants stayed with alumni who live in the D.C. area, and worked at a variety of nonprofit organizations.

So what kinds of things were these socially conscious students doing for the month of January?

“Anything nonprofit you can imagine,” Scott Laidlaw, director of the Community Outreach Program, says with a laugh. “They range from organizations working to make college more affordable for low-income students to organizations focusing on the Middle East to organizations trying to improve education in impoverished areas. The program gives students both a glimpse into what nonprofits can do, and also into the political world of D.C. in general.”

Alumni help not only by allowing students to stay in their homes, but also with a series of special events. Laidlaw spoke of alumni-led tours of the Washington Post, NPR, the Smithsonian Institution and the Holocaust Museum. “Alums have been very generous in donating their time,” he said. “They’ve helped to find a lot of internships, either by suggesting places for us to call or by offering opportunities in the organizations they work for themselves.”

Winternship began roughly 10 years ago with only four students; it has since grown to a 12-intern program for which slots are very much in demand. There were twice as many applicants for every position as there were jobs. “It’s become increasingly popular in terms of the number of applications, and also in terms of the number of organizations involved,” Laidlaw said of the program. “And more and more alumni have volunteered to house students. We’re discussing the possibility of expanding to New York City, Boston, San Francisco. There are so many students who are interested, the demand is so high, and there are so many opportunities that it would be great to expand the program.”

Assistant Director of Community Outreach Tom Lepak emphasized the ways in which this program, like the Pre-Business Seminar, gives students the chance to try something they can’t do during the regular school year. “Students still on campus are definitely still involved in community outreach work; many of those about to graduate are considering careers in nonprofit organizations,” he said. “They appreciate the chance to see if the nonprofit world is right for them, and they’re interested to see alums who have become very successful but are still so dedicated to Amherst and to the students here.”

—Rebecca Louick ’04

Next: Physics Goes Mobile >>

Photo: Scott Laidlaw

 
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