Students expand professional experience over J-Term

CultureNOW staff and GSD Externs: (L-R) David Giglio; Yiran Gao (MUP ’13); Abby Suckle (MArch ’77); Seetha Raghupathy (MAUD ’08); Sneha Khullar (MDesS ’13)

Only a few years ago, Harvard University inaugurated January Term, a chance for students to use the break between the fall and spring semesters to participate in a range of fun and enriching courses and programs both on and off campus. J-Term is an opportunity for students to learn some new skills over winter break and have fun with peers, without the pressure of formal coursework. Programs are non-credited classes or workshops taught by and for the GSD community. This year’s offerings ranged widely, from a J-Term LEED certification course (taught by GSD Alumni Council member Scott Simpson (MArch ’75) and KlingStubbins) to blogging, tye-dying and developing an online portfolio.
This year, the GSD Alumni Council’s Student Relations Committee partnered with the GSD Career Services Office to launch an ambitious expansion of the GSD’s J-Term offerings by setting up off-campus externships. The Committee hoped to provide students with experiential opportunities to learn about practice, foster dialogue and build connections with alumni. Student Committee Chair Jennifer Luce (MDesS ’94) explained the program: “Students are paired with alumni to spend two weeks working side-by-side in the context of a professional work environment. This year we have had tremendous participation with such varying experiences as non-profit research, architectural and landscape practice, and public arts design. Our goal is to broaden the disciplinary outreach and to address very specific skills that students desire. We want this to go international, and yet also to focus on Boston as a center for internship and mentoring opportunities.”
Yiran Gao (MUP ’13) worked with CultureNOW in New York City. She praised her externship experience for giving her the chance to learn how an individual non-profit studio works, and to become more familiar with urban planning and public transit in New York. Matthew Singh (MUP ’13), who partnered with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) in Massachusetts, said, “JPNDC is a great work environment with interesting and challenging assignments. It is very rewarding to be part of an organization that creates housing, business ownership, and job opportunities for people with low incomes and people of color.” During his externship, he had hands-on experience putting together a One Stop application (the application submitted to city and state agencies for city, state and federal affordable housing dollars) and gained exposure to other aspects of real estate, such as asset management.
Externship sponsors also gave the J-Term program glowing reviews. Mark Wheeler of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission said, “Externs bring a fresh perspective. Good interns ask fundamental questions to build their understanding about a project and this process can be quite useful in framing (or reframing) a problem or issue for planning staff. The assignment [our extern] worked on involved preparing land use maps and devising a process to speed up coding and analysis steps.  Her work products exceeded expectations.”
Courtney Spearman of The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. wrote, “Our extern exceeded our expectations (which were already high!) He was able to make a valuable contribution to several projects in just one week and was a real pleasure to have in the office. Hosting a flexible and versatile extern was extremely valuable–we were able to give him several discrete but thoughtful tasks that needed a careful hand, and he was able to complete them. The only surprise was how quickly Mike was able to work.”
To sponsor an extern for the 2013 J-Term, please contact Meryl Golden, Director of Career Services, at [email protected].