Leslie Callejas ’17 had just arrived at Brad MacDougall’s Beacon Hill office when he told her it was time to go.
“As sometimes can happen in my world, I got a call to cover a meeting, so I said to Leslie as she walked in the door, ‘Very nice to meet you, grab your coat, we’re getting in a cab,” said MacDougall MBA ’09, a vice president for government affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), a business lobbying firm. A short taxi ride later, Callejas was sitting in on a meeting about public policy and transportation reform. It was an exhilarating start to Callejas’ day in Suffolk’s Sophomore Job Shadow Program, which matches students with working professionals to give them an up-close perspective on career fields in which they have expressed an interest.
“When he said ‘Do you mind coming [to a meeting]?’ I said, ‘Actually, no, it sounds pretty exciting,’” said Callejas, an English major with a minor in government. “At first I felt super nervous because I was, like, 20 years younger than most of the people and I thought they would say, ‘What the heck is this student doing here?’ But they were so kind, and they let me sit in. It was so interesting to hear all these bills they were talking about, and how they can all work together even though they come from different backgrounds. I didn’t say anything, but I felt like part of the group.”
That’s exactly the kind of experience University officials envisioned for students when the job shadowing program was launched in 2010, a joint effort between Sawyer Business School, the College of Arts and Sciences, Alumni Relations, and the Career Development Center, says Paul Tanklefsky, director of Suffolk’s career center.
“As a prequel to an internship, it provides students with the opportunity to gather information and get a feel for a profession or industry that they have an interest in,” he says. “Alumni matches are with a cross-section of the workplace – including non-profits, business, government, health care/biotech, high tech – and representing everything from brand name employers to entrepreneurial ventures.”
This year, Suffolk students have visited such companies as Comcast, iRobot, and Deloitte. Since its inception, the program has matched more than 200 students with working professionals.
“Feedback from students is positive. Most find the experience helpful in assessing and evaluating their future career pursuits,” Tanklefsky says. “And alumni love the opportunity to give back to the University in such a direct and meaningful way.”
MacDougall’s interest in the program comes from personal experience. As a graduate student, he often reached out to Suffolk alumni for guidance, and still seeks professional advice from others. Now president of the Sawyer Business School Alumni Board, he emphasizes the value of connecting alumni with students. “We’ve identified over the last year or two the importance of student success, so we adopted that as a key area for our board to participate in,” MacDougall says. “We figured it was critical to the students’ long-term success that we engage in this, and we’re encouraging other alumni to do it, too.”
Since high school, Callejas, who is 19 and lives in Stoughton, MA, has been interested in government, especially immigration issues because since her grandparents emigrated from Guatemala. Yet she is undecided about a career path. That’s why she signed up for the program, though when she was matched with MacDougall, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to shadow a lobbyist. It was her mother who convinced her to participate, telling her, “You need to be open to all the opportunities. If you want to find out what you want to do, you have to try things out,’” Callejas recalls.
MacDougall and Callejas spent a half-day together last March. After the transportation reform meeting, MacDougall decided they should forego taking a cab back to the office. “I thought the walking back part was the most fun, because we could just talk about Leslie’s perception of the meeting,” he says. “I would ask, ‘Well, how would you handle it if you were me, what would you go back to my boss and say?’ I think stuff like that is cool because I think it’s part of what Suffolk focuses on, not only the classroom experience, but the experiential part. That’s where a lot of learning can happen.”
Attending the meeting, Callejas says, was her “favorite part of the day,” but she was also impressed that MacDougall valued her opinion about what transpired there. “I just thought Brad was amazing,” she says. “He asked my initial thoughts, and he was really interested in what I had to say.”
Then Callejas had a query for MacDougall: “The first big question I asked – which was the whole reason I joined the program – was ‘How did you know what you wanted to do as a career?’ He knew he wanted to do something in government, and I want to be in government as well, but I just don’t know what area. He said, ‘Sometimes we don’t figure that out until much later, but the whole point is exploring.’”
For Callejas, that included speaking to others at the Boston firm including Robert Rio, JD ’94, a senior vice president of government affairs.
“A lot of the colleagues were willing to share their time, too,” MacDougall says. “We had lunch with someone in the sales department and membership engagement. It was sort of like a speed-networking opportunity. She definitely wasn’t sitting down taking notes, and she was trying to absorb a lot.”
Recalling her job-shadowing experience, Callejas says she began her day with modest expectations, but it easily exceeded anything she could have imagined. “I thought, ‘Well I guess I’m just going to shadow this guy.’ But Brad was nice enough to make me involved in the whole process – I never felt like I was just following him,” she says. “He left me do my own thing and he let me explore. He even recommended great books for me to check out. I wasn’t just a shadow; I felt like I was really there and involved. It was an amazing experience, and I would tell anyone to get involved.”
Are you ready, willing, and able to make a difference in the career of a Suffolk sophomore? Host a student for a day (or half day). For more information, contact the Career Development Center at 617-573-8480, firstname.lastname@example.org.