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CareerLAB plans for BrownConnect Summer Immersion

Summer professional development program offers students alumni connections, previously named the BrownConnect Summer Institute

As students began to lose summer opportunities and internships last year due to the pandemic, the University created the BrownConnect Summer Institute to offer them professional advice and experience from alumni and parents. With the pandemic landscape relatively unchanged a year later and most jobs still operating remotely, CareerLAB and BrownConnect plan to continue to offer the program this summer, with a few slight adjustments to better meet the needs of students.

Last year’s iteration of BCSI took the form of a six-week program consisting of two “modules.” 

The first module, which occurred in the first three weeks, featured two morning and afternoon sessions four days a week. The sessions included case studies, skills workshops and industry expert conversations in a variety of professional fields, including technology and engineering, science and healthcare, business and entrepreneurship, communications and creativity and non-profit and public service, according to CareerLAB’s website. The second module, which occurred in the final three weeks, offered students a chance to directly work with alumni and parents on a group project through a short internship. 

This year’s version of the BCSI, now renamed the BrownConnect Summer Immersion, will be slightly different, according to Director of CareerLAB Matthew Donato.

In preparation for the summer program, CareerLAB took into consideration the feedback it had received from last year’s participants. Based on the feedback, Donato said students benefited most from “building really strong relationships with alumni and being able to build and explore possible career paths.”

“We are going to move away from lots of talking at students through Zoom sessions and more trying to help students make really beneficial connections with alumni to facilitate their career exploration process,” he said. “So what we are hoping to do this summer is to have a BrownConnect Summer Immersion that is really based on mentoring.”

Donato added that “students really get a lot from hearing from alumni experiences and relating those back to their own experiences as students,” whether that be learning about a mentor’s concentration, personal interests or identities.

The logistics of the program’s timing this summer, as well as its participants, are yet to be determined. Donato said that planning had to accommodate this year’s early start to summer for many students given the tri-semester academic calendar. Due to this, the program won’t begin until June to give students a break between the end of the spring semester and the start of the program. 

“We don’t have a date yet for student sign-ups and we haven’t even started recruiting alumni yet,” Donato said. “But some feedback that we got from students over the summer was that they really liked those interactions with the alumni through the case workshops, industry expert conversations and mini-projects.” Given the feedback, Donato said CareerLAB is looking to identify alumni that are able to offer strong mentorship opportunities.

Many students who took part in BCSI last summer found the program to be beneficial in gaining more professional experience amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

When her summer internship became remote, Parisa Afsharian ’23 found herself with extra time to fill. After hearing many upperclassmen talk about their positive experiences using BrownConnect to network and find internships, she made it her goal to take advantage of its events and resources. 

“When I saw that the BrownConnect Summer Institute announced their events (that) they were hosting in the mornings, and also the opportunity to participate in a short three-week immersive internship, I was really excited and it really piqued my interest,” she said. 

In the second module, Afsharian was part of a team of three other Brown students who worked for the Center for Inspired Teaching, a non-profit that helps “teachers build their practice to actively engage their students as empathetic, critical thinkers,” according to the organization’s website. Afsharian’s team was tasked with creating a “hierarchy of needs” to be disseminated to teachers affiliated with the center for the upcoming school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as figuring out how teachers should best support their students.

Afsharian said she enjoyed the opportunity to gain experience in a field she had never considered pursuing. 

“It actually completely surprised me because I had applied to most of the research-based positions and internships but ended up getting placed with an educational non-profit, which was something out of my comfort zone,” Afsharian said. “Working in the educational space was something I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to do again, so I really enjoyed my time.”

Eli Kaplan ’22.5 expressed his appreciation for BCSI as a means to fill the space left by cancelled internships. “It was a nice gesture that there was a program like this,” he said. 

Kaplan took part in a sketch writing workshop with Jonathan Groff ’82, which entailed writing and workshopping comedic sketches. 

As a CareerLAB student advisor, Katie McClenahan ’21 aided in facilitating the non-profit and public service track, as well as participating in the program herself. She was mainly responsible for meeting with alumni and parents and helping them plan and organize the morning and afternoon sessions. 

McClenahan said she was impressed by how quickly CareerLAB was able to create the program. “The fact that it really did come together in just a few weeks really speaks volumes to the Brown community,” she said. “Seeing how alums just really came out in force to help create this valuable experience was really great.”

McClenahan worked on a project for Democratic super PAC Forward Majority, run by David Cohen ’99. She said she found the experience to be “valuable” and was able to continue some of the work with Cohen after the summer was over.

Afsharian believes that BCSI can continue to fill a demand for students even after the pandemic.

“I know a lot of my friends have been unable to secure internships this year or their internships have remained remote or significantly changed due to the changing nature of the pandemic,” she said.

The University should offer BCSI in some kind of format to allow “students no matter where they are over the summer (the opportunity) to gain professional development opportunities and to connect with this Brown community that's out there, that's really willing to help out, as we felt last summer,” McClenahan said.

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