Financial Women's Association Internships Introduce College Students to Business World: Students Trade Summer Tans for Impressive Experience in New York's Financial Arena

Article excerpt

Regina Raphael was living 10 minutes from a beach near Tel Aviv when a message came to call home.

"You're working at Citibank," her mother informed her, "and you're selling computers."

So the Wellesley College junior packed her bags and headed for the airport. Three days after returning to New York, she reported to Citibank's Direct Access department, wondering: 'What's a modem? What's COBOL? What's an Apple? A Lotus?'

Ms. Raphael thus joined 38 other interns who gave up days in the sun's rays for corporate air-conditioning -- which, due to New York City's drought restrictions, wasn't always that cool.

Attracted by the opportunity to participate in the college intern program sponsored by the Financial Women's Association of New York, coeds from colleges across the country set out to learn and gain experience during a two-month stint in the financial world. For eight years, the Financial Women's group has placed undergraduate students in corporations, banks, consulting firms, investment management companies, and securities firms in the New York area.

Though it meant cutting her semester of studies in Israel short, Ms. Raphael felt the chance to work in a bank was a worthy trade-off. She had already taken the economics-related courses required, submitted an essay, been interviewed over Christmas, and provided the necessary recommendations. And here was her chance to get a foot in the financial industry door.

Her first project was to coordinate a computer-awareness day for bank employees, which included arranging caterers, lining up demonstrators, and ordering a computer for the raffle.

Her second project involved locating the bank's branches in the Queens and Rockland County region and identifying computer retailers in the branches' neighborhoods. She then provided maps showing the stores' locations, a service to the branches that assisted them in developing relationships with nearby computer outlets.

And, along with three other Citibank interns, she worked on the management information system that provides monthly sales records for 88 branches.

That's pretty intensive work for a novice at the terminal keyboard. But wrangling with the computer was easy compared to tangling with the red tape of corporate bureaucracy.

"You come into something with no experience," said Ms. Raphael. "You're hit with bureaucracy, and you don't know who to call. You have to learn to talk to the supervisor and then to the regional manager. You have to learn the politics of the game."

Still her own flexibility surprised her.

"I'm an art history and political science major," Ms. Raphael said. "For me, it was great that I could compete with economics majors."

Another intern, Mary Ann Svec, looked at her office environment experience as giving her a lead in the post-graduation job hunting competition. The Mount Holyoke student worked in the market planning department at Merrill Lynch, where she compiled demographic data that aided managers in their strategic decisions.

At a recent gathering of sponors and other interns, she shared -- along with the ubiquitous wine and cheese -- the advice one mentor had given her. "'Your career is like a tree. It can go one way or the other. No one way is necessarily wrong,'" she recounted.

After a summer at Merrill Lynch, she has found that she is branching out in one professional direction. "I didn't know what I wanted to do," Ms. Svec said, "but now I know I want to be in the financial world."

No longer daunted by the mystery of finance, Ms. Svec did learn one hard lesson of professional life. She said her biggest problem was the "expense of a working woman's wardrobe. Men don't know how lucky they are."

Some sponsors felt the intership program not only reflected their commitment to giving young people first-hand experience in the working world, but it also gave them a chance to return the favor once given by those who helped their own careers. …