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Grad Students Study Technology and Policy in D.C.

Terence P. Fan
Gary G. Vyhnalek '83 of Orbital Sciences and Michail Tryfonidis G converse at the reception for students participating in the Graduate Externship Program on Jan. 25 at the Hilton Dulles, Washingston, D.C.

By Naveen Sunkavally

Twelve MIT graduate students traveled to Washington, D.C. during the last week of Independent Activities Period to participate in the Graduate Student Externship program.

The program, developed through a joint initiative of the Graduate Student Council and the MIT Alumni Association allows students to explore fields outside of their own fields by job shadowing with alumni, said Terence P. Fan G, chair of the Graduate Student Externship program.

Washington, D.C. was chosen as the site of the program so that students could pursue interests in both technology and policy, Fan said.

The funding for the program, which covered transportation expenses to and from D.C., came from proceeds collected at the Graduate Student Career Fair. In D.C., students were housed with alumni.

Student reactions are positive

The companies at which students externed "ranged from non-profit government organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Energy Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to high-tech engineering companies like Mitre and Orbital Sciences," Fan said.

Following a reception on Jan. 25, students began work the next day with their alumni and came back on Jan. 30.

Stephanie A. Harrington G, who has a Masters in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, worked with an alumnus in the global-environmental-issues department at ICF Kaiser, a policy-consulting firm.

"I helped to work on a case-study [regarding] an alternative to methyl-bromide," Harrington said, referring to the fumigant used by potato and strawberry farmers that can deplete the ozone layer. "I really liked [the program]. It was a difficult thing to set up to do work for a week...[but] my alumnus did a good job," she said. "It was definitely educational."

Michail Tryfonidis G of the Aeronatics and Astronautics Department paired up with an alumnus at Orbital Sciences corporation. Tryfonidis said he sat in on meetings with his alumnus and saw what type of work aerospace engineers did.

"It was great. In aerospace, opportunities don't come easily to be exposed to real-world engineering before...looking for a job," Tryfonidis said. "It's a no-strings-attached commitment."

Mark S. Peng G paired up with an alumnus to work at Network Performances, a software start-up company. "Meeting for strategic alliances, market pushes... all allowed me to experience the intimacy of a small company and the efficacy of one person," Peng said. The program provided "exposure to the real world that, for the most part, is hermetically insulated from most graduate students," he said.

Overall the program seems to have engendered positive reactions. On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 1998, the GSC will host a meeting at 5:30 p.m. in room 50-220 for the externs and all other students interested in hearing the externs' experience, Fan said.