While many students spent their spring vacations traveling with student groups or relaxing at home, 31 Yalies took part in the Asian American Cultural Center’s Externship Program.
These week-long unpaid internships, now in their eighth year, aim to introduce students to career fields they may be interested in pursuing, or that they may not be exposed to otherwise. This year, over 100 students applied to shadow 21 alumni in various professional fields — from food sustainability to biotech to contemporary writing — and develop a taste for life inside the workplace. When the externship program began in 2006, it was limited to the New York City area. This year, externships were offered during the first week of break in 14 cities across the country, and organizers interviewed said they hope the program continues to grow depending on alumni interest and availability.
“We wanted a program that would expose Asian American students to various career fields and create opportunities for mentorship,” said Dean Saveena Dhall, director of the Asian American Cultural Center. “It has grown at a good pace and our annual feedback supports that both externs and alumni sponsors enjoy the experience.”
Susie Lee ’94, one of the alumni sponsors, said the program gives Yale graduates the opportunity to expose current Yale students to their own interests and passions.
Lee, who studied the sciences as an undergraduate, said she “veered sharply” from the traditional path and entered a graduate program in clay work. She later founded Siren, a social media mobile app set to launch this May that aims to empower women in the dating world. Siren users establish profiles that go beyond surface appearances and address their true personality types, she said.
Lee said she decided to become an alumni sponsor this year out of curiosity, and to see what kind of students are coming out of Yale today.
“Yale is doing just fine,” she said, adding that she had a very positive experience hosting her extern, Dana Chaykovsky ’17.
Chaykovsky she said she spent her time as an extern at Siren in daily meetings with the app’s developers to mend glitches, or “bugs,” in the software. She also attended sessions with the product’s designers, assisted with accounting and met with local figures to advance the app’s renown.
Chaykovsky, who is interested in the “human side of engineering,” said she was attracted to doing an externship at Lee’s company because the job had both technical and psychological aspects: coding and structuring an app while learning about what people find attractive in a potential partner.
“Ever since I got to Yale, I’ve heard of this idea called ‘start-up,’” Chaykovsky said. “We get very involved in our extracurriculars and clubs and we forget that we need that real-world experience. We only have four summers and a couple breaks, so you need to make the most of it.”
Tom Bu ’17 spent his externship at a public hospital in Queens, shadowing alumna Liana Leung ’97. Leung, a doctor in internal medicine, brought Bu along to visit patients and manage doctors completing their residency.
Bu, who had some hesitations about pursuing a pre-med track before the externship, said he valued the opportunity to see how physicians can save lives.
“Without the doctors, they’d be lost,” Bu said of the patients he met. “I realized the hospital is the center of the community. [The patients] want to have a happy life and be with their families, and the doctors are supporting that.”
Bu recalled one day during his externship when a Sri Lankan immigrant came into the hospital with an eye disease caused by diabetes. Bu said that though the disease is typically only found in developing countries, he recognized it from a research project he had done.
The Asian American Cultural Center was founded in 1981.