Fall 2012

Liberating ideas

Harpur alumni show students the power of liberal arts

Feature Image
Jonathan Cohen
Lisa Fischoff '10 is a mentor to Harpur students in the Liberal Arts to Careers Externship program, something she wishes was available when she was in school.

As passionate as Wendy Neuberger ’81, MBA ’84, is about the value of a liberal arts education, she also recognizes the reality of the marketplace.

To show Harpur College students where a liberal arts degree might lead, she relies on Harpur alumni to take them under their wing for a short time.

Neuberger runs the Liberal Arts to Careers Externship (LACE) program, which matches alumni with sophomores who are pursuing degrees similar to their own or who share their career interests. 

“An externship is a learning opportunity,” she says. While interns might work at a specific job for a summer or semester, LACE externs receive neither credit nor pay, but instead explore careers that would be possible with their degree.

The program’s success has garnered no small measure of envy from its alumni sponsors.

“When I found out about it, I was so annoyed that I didn’t get to do this,” says entrepreneur Lisa Fischoff ’10.

“This program is great because it will guide you. In this economy, you can spend a lot of time and money if you don’t know what you’re going to do,” says Jane Rosales ’09, who works for a nonprofit.

“I can’t believe it wasn’t here when I was a student.”

Externs spend three to five days during winter or summer break shadowing their sponsors in their workplaces. They also conduct informational interviews with their sponsors’ colleagues so they can learn more about career development.

“Students need to meet multiple times with multiple people because it gives them a richer overview of what it’s like to work in that environment. It also teaches them what it means to be a professional,” Neuberger says.

“Informational interviews are so valuable. The goal is to find out what you do or don’t want in a career. I tell the students, if they walk away saying, ‘I don’t want to do this or that,’ it’s a fine outcome,” she adds.

LACE’s first group of externs numbered 16 in summer 2011, with 54 in winter and summer 2012. Neuberger plans 40 externships next winter and 60 in summer 2013.

“The plan is to grow to 150 externships by 2014,” she says. “The challenge is to increase the number of Harpur alumni sponsors so we can place students who want to participate.”

Externs see big picture

With a double major in philosophy and political science, and an interest in international relations, Marcel Bucsescu ’03 thought foreign service was a likely career. Yet his professional toolbox lacked a basic understanding of the business world, despite an internship with a Berlin-based startup organization with a U.S. presence.

The internship had him and a manager working together via e-mail and meetings in cafés to plan New York events. “It would have been more helpful to have had a more structured experience,” Bucsescu says. “While I was able to do real work … I didn’t learn some of those softer business skills. Getting to interact with colleagues in a professional setting is important. That would have been valuable to me.”

Bucsescu gained some of those skills as a meeting planner at The Conference Board, an independent research association that helps member businesses make informed decisions. He has been manager of The Conference Board’s Governance Center since January 2011.

This year, he sponsored two LACE externs with different majors and career goals, but his approach was the same.

“It’s more than sitting next to me at a desk. They need to speak to others in the organization and learn there are many ways to get to where they want to be in their careers,” Bucsescu says.

“Sponsorship forced me to think about what I have done and why I did it — it wasn’t all chance,” he adds.

Last January, he arranged meetings for Ilana Solomon, a dual major in English and human development with a minor in Hebrew, to meet senior researchers in human resources so she could make connections between her human development courses and corporate human-resource practices.

“Everyone has a view of a nonprofit as a charity organization, but The Conference Board is corporate. It gave me some perspective of the larger world of nonprofits,” she says.

“Even commuting daily into the city was part of the experience that I got comfortable with. You make the LACE program what you want.”

Solomon ended her externship by conducting an internal meeting, which gave her a valuable takeaway skill: effective meeting facilitation, Bucsescu says.

Justin Ivry has more interest in business and economics than law, despite a declared major in philosophy, politics and law.
This summer, Bucsescu arranged for him to conduct informational interviews with an economist who analyzes global business indicators, a sustainability researcher and social media consultants. 

“It’s been a great experience to meet different people and learn what they did to prepare for their careers. Their advice about graduate school and internships is most useful,” Ivry says.

Creative thinking creates jobs

Fischoff loved her geography major, focusing on urban planning, but discovered after interning in Binghamton City Planning that she hated being in an office.

Following graduation, she worked part-time jobs in New York, where a coffee shop on East Broadway caught her eye. Fischoff approached the new owner about becoming his business partner. He accepted and together they rebranded the shop as Pushcart Coffee last fall.

“It hit me one day: Owning a coffee shop is urban planning. We’re helping the neighborhood by providing a good gathering place for residents,” she says.

Her outreach includes catering community events, attending community board meetings and working to expand the business improvement district.
“I think about the big picture: how to grow and expand the company and make sure we are always adapting to fit the needs of the community,” Fischoff adds.

She cites the handful of new businesses — a craft beer and farmstead cheese store as well as a tavern —  as evidence that a for-profit business can promote positive social change. 

“Being a good neighborhood business has made our corner more attractive to other businesses,” Fischoff says.

Extern Stephanie Izquieta watched Fischoff do everything from delivering coffee to managing construction at new store locations. Izquieta also put in some paid hours behind the counter.

“My ultimate goal is to work in social entrepreneurship, and that means learning to run a successful business from the ground up,” she says.

“The ironic thing is, my mom had a business (a family-owned auto repair shop) and I would see her working at night, matching inventory with product. I thought she was just looking at papers, but now I understand.”