The externship program at Texas Tech’s Honors College can open a world of possibilities for students.
To a certain extent, that is the thinking behind the Classroom-to-Career Externship Program that Hernandez, dean of the Honors College, hopes to see blossom as a result of donor philanthropy, alumni interest and student engagement.
“This program represents an experience that will travel with students for the rest of their life,” she said. “Donors get to make it happen. They don't have to wait to see a return on their investment. They're going to see the return immediately because of the way students are impacted.”
Externships also offer an opportunity for donors to get involved with Texas Tech at a relatively modest level.
“I look at it as a small investment,” Hernandez said. “A donor can sponsor an externship for $500 because, on average, we can run the program for $500 per student. They are sent on a professionally defining adventure that donors make happen.”
An externship differs in several ways from its better-known and more-celebrated cousin, the internship. Typically, externships last only a couple of days, and rather than class credit, recipients get an immersive experience in a setting that aligns with their professional aspirations.
It takes three to make externships work
Successful externships require three equally devoted stakeholders: curious first- and second-year students, welcoming hosts and passionate donors. Students receive an up-close look at an employer in their primary area of interest. They can see how their skills translate to the workplace and whether they might fit in a position or organization through tours, informal conversations with staff and observing meetings.
Hosts share their knowledge and expertise while building a relationship with a student who may one day join their team. Their organization's brand recognition grows while possibly opening an employment pipeline to Texas Tech.
Financial supporters see their gift make an almost immediate impact on Texas Tech's educational mission while helping a student learn about career possibilities.
“It's one to two days of on-the-job networking,” Hernandez said. “They will often involve shadowing or field work and sometimes a little research depending on where we send them. Internships, on the other hand, can last 10 to 15 weeks, are often paid and are typically for credit.
“Externships are not for credit. They are value-added co-curricular experiences. We don't want students to have costs associated with these, so we cover travel, accommodation and dressing for success. We want students to go out and have the best experience.”
In other words, an externship may help a student decide to pursue a career path or make up their mind that a job they thought they wanted isn't as appealing as it appeared.
“These can be chances to find clarity, and clarity can be very helpful,” Hernandez said. “If you are a student in the Honors College, we are going to help launch you into the future that you want for yourself. This program is part of how we provide a set of experiences that students cannot get anywhere else.”
The idea is one Hernandez originally encountered during her time as dean of arts and humanities at Central Washington University, where she wanted to create a wider swath of experiences for students prior to accepting a job. As she researched what other institutions were doing, she came across the externship program at Cal-Berkeley and then spent a day on their campus learning the ins and outs of how it was built, grown and funded, not necessarily in that order.
“One of the things I learned that day was if you want to meet the diverse needs of students, externships are low-hanging fruit,” she said. “Meet them where they are vocationally during their freshman and sophomore years and let them explore.”
Externship idea was an early priority
Hernandez was named Honors College dean in July 2022 and launching an externship program was among a veritable boatload of priorities.
“Our faculty are excited about this,” she said. “When I first started doing analysis of where honors colleges and programs in the state were meeting the needs of their students, it's clear a top honors college program like at Texas Tech has 50% of its students going on to medical or graduate school. The other 50% aren't sure, and that's pretty standard.”
It's those uncertain students Hernandez hopes will leverage and ultimately benefit from the externship opportunity.
“I want Texas Tech to be the premier place where excellent students who are intellectually curious about how to use their degrees out in the world can actually do that,” she said.
Groundwork for the program began last fall, and five students were awarded externships this summer during the program's soft launch. Hernandez expects to see the number of externships steadily grow in the coming semesters.
“The word is out, even though we're nascent,” she said. “We had two students come forward and say, ‘This is definitely what I want to do and who I want to do it with.' We have another one for the fall who is a physics and math major, which is awesome.”
Helping student dreams become realities
Hernandez wants to build a broad portfolio of externship possibilities so student imaginations will not be limited.
“It may be the first time some of these students have traveled or the first time they've been on an airplane,” she said. “We want to send students out. We want them thinking big. It may be a weekend in Houston, but it might also be a weekend in Washington, D.C. or Hollywood. It's a small time frame, but it just opens a world of possibilities for them.”
Additionally, it is an experience that builds and bolsters connection throughout the Texas Tech family.
“The students begin to develop and strengthen relationships with alumni,” Hernandez said. “The externships really connect with young alumni because it's not always philanthropy of money, but philanthropy of time. It is a gateway for people who may not be sure about how to give or in what ways to give to the university.
“It has value for the host and value for the donor who is able to directly invest in a small fiscal way in a fantastic opportunity that will be absolutely transformative.”