“What are you doing this summer?”
This stress-inducing question is on the minds of many frenzied freshmen as they wind down from the exhilaration of fall quarter and look ahead to the rest of their Stanford careers. Summer opportunities abound for students of all disciplines, but many underclassmen have no idea where to begin and feel overwhelmed by the looming threat of a summer of mediocrity if they do not meet application deadlines.
A new independent student organization called StemSearch is working to help guide computer science (CS) students through the process of finding their first summer internships. StemSearch connects freshmen and sophomores to summer opportunities geared specifically towards underclassmen and meets with students individually to offer personalized guidance, advice and resume tips.
Co-founder Priyanka Sekhar ’17 jokingly refers to the group as “the Tinder of first-year internships” because its website lists multiple frosh-centric internships that students can peruse. She and Jinhie Skarda ’17 were inspired to start StemSearch after reflecting on their own struggle to find internships during freshman year.
The goal of StemSearch is largely to help students overcome the catch-22 of needing experience in order to get experience. Sekhar pointed out that the value of a first-year internship should not be downplayed because it can help students gain experience and set them up for more opportunities down the road. Skarda and Sekhar also hold office hours during which students can receive personalized feedback on their resume.
“If you have a phenomenal first year, which leads to subsequent phenomenal summers, it could lead to a phenomenal full-time job,” Sekhar said. “We try to help people who think they’re not qualified for jobs or who can’t find resources on campus to connect with employers who are willing to take them.”
Sekhar and Skarda note that the two biggest hurdles to finding an internship are lack of information and lack of confidence: Although there are numerous career education resources on campus, including BEAM and the Stanford Computer Forum, freshmen often do not take advantage of them. According to Executive Director of the Computer Forum Connie Chan, this stems partially from the fact that undergraduates often do not get put on email lists that connect them to field-specific resources until they declare their major.
Resources for undeclared students also tend to be much more general, say Skarda and Sekhar, and not the best-suited to help this niche group of CS-oriented frosh looking to get their feet wet in the tech world.
“Just going through the recruiting process ourselves — I’ve even been a recruiter myself for a start-up — we know what people are looking for from Stanford freshmen and sophomores,” Sekhar said. “BEAM does a really good job generally, but we want to specifically target a group and do a phenomenal job for freshmen and sophomores.”
Sekhar and Skarda also hope to arm freshmen with the ability to pitch themselves: Although many have impressive skillsets and relevant experience, they do not recognize that talent or emphasize it enough in interviews.
“There is a lot of pressure, especially at Stanford, to have really prestigious names, but Google only hires a few people a year. So the question is, how do you get that experience when Google doesn’t hire you? And there are a lot of ways that may not be as standard that still provide great experience,” Sekhar said.
According to Chan, however, the number of freshman getting engaged in resources and job searching has increased in recent years, with freshman now constituting 10 to 15 percent of all the students that are involved with Computer Forum. Additionally, companies have informed her that more freshmen have been sitting at their tables during career fairs and events.
“Do not get discouraged,” Chan advised. “The CS major is very popular, but there is a wide job market and plenty of opportunities — for freshmen, it can be just a little bit more challenging.”
Yet, the rising number of students declaring a CS major over the years has left many students wondering whether the internship hunt is more competitive. According to Brett Alpert, associate dean of career education and director of career ventures at BEAM, students need not fear, as the demand for jobs and internships has actually been meeting a significant need from companies.
“While there are more computer science majors, there is also a wide variety of opportunity,” Alpert said. “The key is to connect with resources early and often.”
Alpert went on to say that resources like BEAM, Computer Forum and StemSearch all work in partnership to facilitate connections between students with the ultimate goal of helping them find meaningful work.
The next goal for StemSearch is to reach out to more students across disciplines.
“We also recognize that other majors are out there and don’t know what to do, so we’re definitely trying to open up to those fields as well,” Skarda said. “Overall, we want to teach [freshmen and sophomores] to realize that they really do have strengths.”
Contact Ellie Bowen at ebowen ‘at’ stanford.edu.