In every career, there are defining moments—serendipitous encounters, unexpected phone calls, or chance meetings that set people on a new course. They can push us in unforeseen directions, toward opportunities we hadn’t anticipated. When we’re prepared to make the most of these decisive moments, we look back on them as luck. But this kind of luck doesn’t only rest in the hands of fate: It is also the inspiration behind the LSA Opportunity Hub’s flash internships.
Flash internships are rapid learning experiences—usually three to five days long—that connect students with LSA alums at the top of their game in a given field. The students go beyond the office tour by working on day-long projects, getting feedback on their skills, and talking with established industry professionals.
The experience is purely exploratory. For many students, flash internships offer the first exposure to a professional experience. And they’re offered at no cost, thanks to the generous support of donors. Flash internships have brought students to cities such as Chicago and Detroit as well as both coasts for experiences in tech, nonprofits, and sports media at juggernauts like Facebook, Netflix, and NBC. By the time the internship is over, students have made tangible progress in their understanding of an industry and their potential role in it.
“Flash internships provide a pivotal point for students—a chance to quickly and intensively explore an industry and make important connections,” says Paula Wishart, LSA’s assistant dean for student development and career initiatives, who heads the LSA Opportunity Hub. “These on-site learning experiences can be very defining in a student's career trajectory. And it’s especially helpful because these students are interacting with LSA alums who’ve been in their shoes. Alumni are essential in these experiences.”
Recent flash internships connected students with WhatsApp’s COO Matt Idema, Pinterest’s Head of Community Operations Jud Hoffman, NBC Sports’ Senior Vice President Dan Steir, and Ross Mobile Productions’ President and Executive Producer Mitch Rubenstein. Access to these high-level offices and the people who occupy them is possible because of alumni partners.
See below for a handful of reflections by students and alumni on pivotal moments in their lives and careers.
“No question, if I hadn’t taken that call, I wouldn’t be at Pinterest today.”
Jud Hoffman, Head of Community Operations, Pinterest
“I was working at a law firm in Ann Arbor, focused on a deal document of some kind, and the phone rang. Usually, I’d never pick up a call that absentmindedly because three or four times a week, those calls were from head hunters trying to get you to do the exact same work under a different letterhead. But on this day I picked up the phone without looking. It turned out that it was a woman hiring for AOL. I hadn’t been called about a tech-related job ever, nor did I know anyone who had. It wasn’t long into the call that I started to find it intriguing. It was 2007. AOL became my first tech employer. No question, if I hadn’t taken that call, I wouldn’t be at Pinterest today.”
“I hung out at night voluntarily assisting the sports production staff.”
Dan Steir, Senior Vice President, NBC Sports Group
Political Science, 1985
“You never know when an unplanned opportunity will lead to a career. In 1984, I was an average college student who loved school, friends, and sports. I was not very focused on life after graduation. One casual friend of mine was working as a sports production assistant at the time, at WDIV, the local Detroit NBC television station. She was leaving her position; she knew I loved sports and she kindly recommended me to replace her. I was thrilled to get the job and began working part-time during the day while I finished school. I loved the job and hung out at night voluntarily assisting the sports production staff, logging, clipping, and editing sports video—it was a win-win situation. I developed a great relationship with the head sportscaster, who was also the sports director, and after graduation I was hired full-time. After two years, my boss, the sports director, got a job at a station in New York City and took me with him, and my career in sports broadcasting was well underway. I later took a job at ESPN and presently work at the NBC Sports Group. My advice is to be open to new opportunities; develop good relationships with friends, peers, and associates; and put in the extra effort, especially if it is doing something you enjoy.”
“They really threw us in the deep end. We took the initiative and went for it.”
Michael Azimi, LSA Student
Sophomore, Data Science
“I participated in the tech flash internship in San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to pursue a career at the intersection of technology and marketing, so the opportunity was really important to me. I found out I got the internship during Political Science 140. When I read the acceptance email I got up, trying not to scream in class, that’s how excited I was. My aha moment came during our visit to Pinterest. They created project challenges for us and it was definitely intimidating because I’d never done anything like that before. They really threw us in the deep end, and our team, despite none of us having any real experience in that field before, took the initiative and went for it. We were really happy with the result. I definitely felt nervous presenting in front of all these industry leaders who are at the top of their field. But despite the nerves, the whole experience was a pivot for me towards a career in technology.”
“It made me believe in my own potential.”
Brynn Katzen, Public Policy Associate, Facebook
“As an undergrad I thought I was going to be a lawyer. My parents are both lawyers. But when I graduated, they really insisted I take a few years off to work and try something different before committing to law school. So I got a job at a boutique advertising agency in Miami and saw all the different facets of advertising. The agency’s director of new business development met somebody who worked at Facebook who had posted a job opening in California. I applied. It was a contractor role, and I was overqualified, but I got the job offer. Most people, including my parents, really tried to dissuade me from moving across the country for a role that was just a year, had an end date, and didn’t on the surface have any potential leads. But I took the leap, and when I started I met the director of the policy department, who is a U-M alum. He saw my potential and helped me to grow my role into something completely different and long-term. I think meeting an alum who believed in me made me believe in my own self-worth and my own potential, and that developed into a very real career opportunity. That changed my course.”
Images courtesy of the LSA Opportunity Hub