In January, more than 240 students shadowed Lafayette alumni, parents, and friends across various industries—and gained real-life exposure to what it’s like to be on the job
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
In January, 245 Lafayette sophomores, juniors, and seniors seized winter break as an opportunity to gain valuable insight into what it’s really like to work in various fields. Through the externship program offered by Lafayette’s Gateway Career Center in partnership with generous hosts, the students shadowed alumni, parents, and friends of the College across a wide range of industries, and had the chance to immerse themselves in their potential career choices for two to five days.
Most students attended their externships in person, while some attended virtually, as more and more workplaces are embracing a hybrid workplace. All externs, however, walked away with not only new skills that will make them more marketable when they enter the workforce, but also a clearer picture of what profession they can see themselves pursuing.
“Externships provide a ground-level look at one of many practical, professional applications of a student’s major, and can help solidify a student’s choice as far as their area of study,” says Alexis Leon, assistant director of experiential learning, who manages the externship program. “On the other hand, but equally as important, seeing the reality of a job they were considering may eliminate it as an option for them moving forward, so it’s still very much in service to their discernment process as to how they can best apply their knowledge and studies after graduating. It’s just as valuable to know what you don’t want to do!”
Another distinguishing factor of the externship experience is the fact that the majority of hosts are Lafayette alumni, giving students the opportunity to build deep professional connections with successful fellow Leopards.
“The program has an incredibly long tenure with the College, and as a result we have a diverse range of class years as well as majors represented in our hosts from year to year,” Leon says. “There is a shared, foundational experience between hosts and their students the moment we make the match. Hosts also know firsthand the skills and ability inherent to being a Leopard, and how to leverage them within their organizations. In many cases, alumni have participated in externships as students and are actively seeking to give back not only to the College, but to the program itself, and to afford a student with an opportunity which they themselves found so valuable. They have a vested interest in the individual success of their student, and in cultivating a future member of their alumni network.”
Leon, who oversees the establishment of relationships with hosts, guides students through the externship application process, and matches students with hosts, also emphasizes that the hosts are the key ingredient to the program’s success.
“Anyone reading this has the potential to be an externship host,” she says. “We recruit year-round, but are most active in late summer for the coming January program. We offer in-person and remote opportunities, and hosts can select from three different weeks of availability in January. We even actively recruit graduate and preprofessional students to truly show options for that aspect of postgraduate life.”
Here’s a look at a few of this year’s externships, and what students and hosts had to say about them.
The Philadelphia Phillies are a Major League Baseball team that is based in Philadelphia and competes in the National League (NL) East division. The Phillies have won two World Series (1980 and 2008) and eight NL pennants. The team is the oldest continuously run, single-name, single-city franchise in American professional sports.
Host: David Buck ’86, executive vice president
Externs: Jean Regnier ’23, Julia Roman ’23, and Anya Pelshaw ’24
Over the course of two days, externs were introduced to professionals working in various departments in the Philadelphia Phillies front office, including executive management, operations, scouting, research and development, marketing, as well as others. In addition to talking to front office team members about the responsibilities carried out by individual departments, the students learned how each department works together to help make the team and franchise a success. Externs also toured Citizens Bank Park facilities, getting an insider’s look at where the players practice, where VIP guests are entertained, where executives and staff members conduct business, and more.
“I’m a government and law major, but I’m interested in pursuing a career in sports management because I played sports growing up. Getting to talk to a lot of different people in the Phillies organization and hear their advice helped me see that I want to work for an organization like this in the future. It was a great time,” Regnier says. “David reminisced about his time at Lafayette and playing baseball at Metzgar Fields, and he made the experience so welcoming.”
“I’ve been hosting this externship for 15-20 years, and it’s two of my favorite days of the year,” Buck says. “I love meeting the young students, and they keep me connected to Lafayette. The externship gives them an idea of what it’s really like working for a baseball team, and I think they’re often surprised at how much business goes on behind the scenes. We’ve even hired a couple of them after they graduated thanks to the relationships they made during those two days.”
New York City
Harry’s Inc. designs, manufactures, and sells shaving and personal care products for men. Known for their subscription service through which customers can receive grooming kits by mail, as well as their products sold at stores like Target and Walmart, the company aims to design products that are effective and provide a great user experience.
Host: Laura Zito Dodds ’15, head of research and development program management
Externs: Milka Ininahazwe ’24, Max Hook ’23, and John Pogorelov ’24
Externs got a crash course on the various people and steps it takes to make Harry’s and Flamingo products. They met with multiple cross-functional partners to understand each step in the product development cycle—from the marketing team (who explained how they determine what the company makes and how products are positioned for consumers) to the engineering team (who explained the product innovation and manufacturing processes). The students also spoke with each team that touches the start-to-finish process of creating—and eventually selling—a product for mass markets like Walmart, CVS, and Amazon. Prior to their externship, students were challenged to design their own razor handle by applying their in-classroom learning and conducting research on ergonomics, materials, and production methods. At the end of the externship, they presented to and discussed their designs with the engineering team.
“I absolutely loved my externship,” Ininahazwe says. “The people I met were incredibly supportive and welcoming, and the conversations I had were enlightening. Not only have I been able to learn more about the industry, but I also have been able to gain a better understanding of which career path is the right fit for me. Our host was extremely accommodating and attentive to the needs of each extern—she took the time to personalize everyone’s schedule and meetings according to their specific interests. She also shared her own experiences and career path, and offered valuable career advice. Overall, she went above and beyond to ensure the visit was productive and enjoyable.”
“When I was a student at Lafayette, I participated in an externship with a construction company. Prior to that, I thought I wanted to go into construction, but it helped me realize I should explore other fields before committing, and I’m so glad I did,” Zito Dodds says. “Externships offer students a chance to learn about the various ways they can use their degree after school and how most career paths aren’t a straight line. I really enjoy seeing how differently each student approaches the experience and learning about what they’re most interested in. All three students came into the externship with different areas they were most excited to learn about, and by the end each student had a new thing that really interested them. I love working for a company that encourages its employees to do things like hosting externs, and I love getting to show off the Lafayette students.”
Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
New York City
The Manhattan (New York County) District Attorney’s office is responsible for the prosecution of violations of New York state laws that take place in Manhattan.
Host: David Hammer ’92, assistant district attorney
Externs: Eric Ponieman ’24 and Avery Warmack ’23
During their three-day externship, students were fully immersed in the world of criminal law. Not only did they meet with several assistant district attorneys, who gave them an overview of what they do, and paralegals, who shared their stories about what it’s like to work in a law office as a recent college graduate; the externs also observed several crucial aspects of the criminal prosecution process. They had the opportunity to sit in on a trial, a jury selection, reviews of new cases, evaluations of cases that could potentially be brought to a grand jury, and more.
“When you’re a college student considering law school and trying to picture what it’s like to be a lawyer, there’s nothing like being in a courtroom and gaining that firsthand experience,” Ponieman says. “I had almost no prior knowledge about law going into the externship, so there’s a lot for me to learn in terms of that career path. Shadowing an assistant district attorney of Manhattan and spending three days in a place that has so much influence on the day-to-day lives and safety of New Yorkers was amazing. It gave me the opportunity to absorb the expertise of the people who work there. I’m interested in law school, and while I don’t yet know what field of law I’d like to pursue, this externship gave me a great experience in one of them.
“Being hosted by someone who is not only an expert in the field, but also a Lafayette alum, it made that mentor relationship go from helpful to really special,” Ponieman continues. “David was warm and friendly, and he understood where we are in our educational journey as young students. We asked him a lot of heavy questions about what we were seeing, and there wasn’t one he didn’t answer—he encouraged us to ask more. The Lafayette connection also bonded us throughout the experience—we talked about the history of the school, he shared his pictures and memories from his time there, and he talked about how the liberal arts education and open conversations he was able to engage in at Lafayette were all helpful when he went to law school.
“I’m grateful to the Gateway Center, which also was super helpful throughout the externship,” Ponieman adds. “They made sure we were prepared for everything from office etiquette to dress code, and they did a great job of making sure we had the support we needed. They taught us skills that are important when finding a job and working, and the resources and knowledge Gateway gave me are something I’m going to take with me no matter what career I follow.”
“I’ve been an externship host probably for 25 years now. For me, it’s great to hear how things are going on campus,” Hammer says. “It’s also fun for me to help the students learn about the law and what criminal prosecution is all about. They’re learning and seeing a lot in a very small number of days, and they haven’t been to law school but they’re dealing with legal issues. I enjoy seeing how they absorb the information and ask questions, and helping them decide if they want to go to law school. As a Lafayette alum, I feel I owe it to them to pass on anything I can, and help them by being someone they can reach out to whenever they have questions or need a letter of recommendation.”
Dontech designs and manufactures optical filters, coatings, and assembly components to enhance the optical and environmental performance of electronic displays and precision optics. From concept to final system delivery, Dontech aims to produce innovative and quality products.
Hosts: Richard Paynton Jr. ’86, president, CEO, and CTO; Stephen Bayer ’04, COO; and Karen Boone, director of engineering
Extern: Elena Thome ’24
During her externship at Dontech, Thome was given a facility tour as well as an overview of the company and its products. She engaged in informational interviews with Dontech employees, including engineers from different disciplines (chemical, mechanical, electrical, etc.), the human resources manager, the quality manager, the COO, and the president, CEO, and CTO. The interviews covered each employee’s background, career path, role at Dontech, and current projects, and provided Thome the opportunity to ask questions. Thome received introductory training on Ishikawa (fishbone) diagrams for failure analysis and the “5 Whys” method, and she reviewed yield data to develop unbiased potential contributors to yield issues. Thomes also joined in on the weekly engineering department team meeting to review metrics and updates, and discuss participants’ learnings and project collaborations.
“Doing an externship was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Lafayette,” Thome says. “Even if I don’t go into this field, it still provided me with a lot of firsthand professional work experience. I am grateful to have spoken with a variety of people, from whom I gained so much knowledge and advice. It was interesting to see how what I’ve learned in class can be applied to creating a product. From hearing stories about employees’ journeys to where they are today, it taught me that there is no one path after college. They urged me to follow my passion wherever that may lead me, and this was a very nice thing to hear. I loved being able to get to know my host, Karen Boone. She was very helpful in offering honest advice, and I was able to form a good relationship because she made me feel very comfortable and urged me to ask questions about anything. I also loved being able to talk with Lafayette alums because I was able to relate to their college experience and hear stories about their time there. They talked about how Lafayette prepared them very well for their first job and taught them things they still use to this day.”
“Elena was a pleasure to have for the externship,” Boone says. “It was inspiring to hear her express firsthand the impact the experience had on developing her understanding of the endless possibilities she has as an engineering student. We wanted Elena to talk to individuals who have taken various paths in their career but provide a relatable track for her future. We were able to demonstrate that you can really love your job and the purpose of our unique industry. The late founders of Dontech, Richard Paynton Sr. ’52 and Doreen Paynton, have a strong legacy with Lafayette College as a celebration of what was important to them. Including their son, Richard Paynton Jr. ’86, Dontech’s president and CTO, and grandson, Stephen Bayer ’04, Dontech’s COO, approximately another dozen other family members are Lafayette alums. Hosting the externship offers us the privilege of supporting the next generation of engineers and continues our Lafayette community involvement. The opportunity gives students a chance to see the connection that Lafayette makes with employers and what career opportunities they can have. Career programs like this provide students with valuable services, but they are not possible without the involvement of employers. To help a student experience engineering outside of the classroom is a humble reminder of gratitude toward those who made the experience possible for me when I was in college.”
Perpay is an all-in-one marketplace with a mission to make everyday purchases more accessible and help customers build credit through small installment payments.
Hosts: Chris DiMarco ’98, founder and CEO, and Kylie Young ’20, marketing
Externs: Yuqi Wang ’23 and Jack Warren ’23
In addition to touring Perpay’s Philadelphia office and gaining in-depth knowledge about Perpay’s product, externs met one-on-one with members of every department at Perpay to learn more about each team’s function and the responsibilities of various roles. They also attended the monthly “all-hands” meeting, where the leadership team provided updates on key results and performance indicators and answered the students’ questions. The externs also put together a newsletter highlighting topics they felt were relevant at Perpay—an exercise aimed at getting students familiar with the fintech space.
“I’m really grateful to the Gateway Career Center for giving me the chance to shadow at Perpay so I could learn about not only different roles, but also new possibilities after graduation,” Wang says. “I’ve always wanted to work at a startup company, because I would be one of 100 employees instead of one of 10,000, and I could make a difference. Shadowing life at a startup allowed me to experience the culture and helped affirm my goal to work at a startup. I’m a computer science major, and I’ve always only considered a career in software engineering. But during one of my one-on-one meetings at Perpay, someone asked if I have looked into data engineering, and she explained what it was. It gave me a new way to think about tech roles, and it extended the types of roles I’d like to consider when I start my job search.”
“After participating in the externship program during my time as a student at Lafayette, it was a surreal experience to be hosting externs,” Young says. “I was lucky enough to find Perpay through my connections from Lafayette, and I love having the opportunity to provide the same opportunities that were given to me as a student. The externship program is a great way to get a snapshot of a potential career path.”