Externship experiences inspire students to succeed

Amber Travis with Kacey Swindell

UAH human resources major and externship student Amber Travis, left, with Kacey Swindell at the Westin Hotel and its new brand, Element Hotels.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Experiential learning, or learning through experience, is one of the best ways to reinforce the knowledge students learn in the classroom. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) now offers experiential learning to students at every stage of their college career through the Month of Externships (MOE) program.

MOE offers students, as early as their first year, the opportunity to try out, through job shadowing, just one of the many career paths of their major. Participants can also network with professionals in their fields. At the same time, employers have the opportunity to meet the next generation of employees and perhaps identify their next co-op, intern or full-time hire.

"MOE has evolved over the past few years. In 2016, the student alumni association created Job Shadow Days, a two-day program offering students the opportunity to tour or shadow at companies. This year Career Services and Alumni Relations collaborated to provide more one-on-one experiences throughout the entire month of March," says Laura Taylor, career coordinator. "These changes allowed for greater flexibility for students and employers and increased the number of meaningful externship opportunities."

Khame Abuqutesh with Keith Yager

Chemical engineering major and externship student Khamees Abuqutesh, left, with Yellowhammer master brewer Keith Yager.

Michael Mercier | UAH

"We were able to place approximately 80 percent of the students that signed up this year. The number of employers that registered also increased by over 50 percent, and the majority are new to the program," says Taylor. "We are pleased with the growth, and we are looking forward to expanding in the coming years."

Student participants say they’ve had an opportunity to get a jump-start on knowledge of the professional world.

"This experience has already helped me in several ways. It has given me a newfound drive and inspiration to push myself, a path to be productive with this drive and a useful contact to ask questions," says sophomore computer engineering major Trenton Williams of Anderson, Ala., who shadowed at Avilution.

Amber Travis, a senior management major from Pisgah, Ala., says that her experience at Element Huntsville opened her eyes to the many possible departments she would need to be aware of in her future career in human resources.

"MOE gave me the opportunity to focus on one company and realize how much work it takes to keep that company running. There were so many different departments that I would have never thought existed," Travis says.

There are benefits on the business side of the relationship, too. "Externships are a great way to introduce employers to the many great students at UAH," says Taylor.

"I found it interesting that Garrison Hill, even as a freshman at UAH, was already wanting to get into the professional arena to ask critical questions and gain knowledge," says Brandon Carrin, branch sales manager at Progress Bank, who was paired with Hill. "I believe this experience will benefit him greatly in the long run. His overall eagerness to learn was very impressive."

Overall, Carrin says MOE was a positive experience.

"This was my first time hosting, and I believe it was a great opportunity for me to provide counsel to a student looking to grow professionally," he says. "I would absolutely do this again."

Kacey Swindell, director of operations at Element Huntsville, agrees that MOE is a great opportunity.

"The externship experience seems to be a great opportunity to quickly dive into the everyday life in a career without an extensive time commitment. I wish this opportunity had been available to me as a student," Swindell says. "I believe that a closer relationship with UAH will be a long term advantage to our business as we form a connection with strongly qualified candidates. Additionally, the small amount of time required of me to positively impact the life and career of these students is reward enough to warrant future participation."

It is hoped that relationships facilitated during MOE will organically translate into mentorship relationships through the Mentor A Charger (MAC) program, another collaborative effort of the Offices of Career Services and Alumni Relations. MAC is designed to be ongoing each fall semester to bring students together with real-world business people.

Students interested in MAC may submit an online application in August. Employer registration is ongoing. Questions may be directed to the Office of Career Services at chargerjobs@uah.edu.

Student registration for MOE is conducted online annually in January. Employer registration is ongoing. Questions may be directed to Laura Taylor at laura.h.taylor@uah.edu

Participating businesses in 2018 are:

  • A&A
  • Avilution LLC
  • Brasfield & Gorrie
  • Business Interiors
  • Care Assurance System for the Aging and Homebound of Madison County (CASA)
  • City of Huntsville- Mayor's Office
  • Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate
  • Dentistry Downtown
  • Element Huntsville
  • Focus Physiotherapy
  • Georgia Tech Research Institute
  • Hexagon S&I
  • HudsonAlpha
  • Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency
  • Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center
  • iHeartMedia
  • Innova Primary Care
  • Kindred Hospice
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Pediatric Associates of Madison
  • Progress Bank
  • RadioBro
  • Redstone Test Center
  • SAIC
  • Science & Engineering Services, LLC 
  • Southern Community Bank
  • Still Serving Veterans
  • Target
  • Thompson Gray
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Vector Wealth Strategies
  • Yellowhammer Brewing


Laura Taylor