Blog post by ELP Student Hope Chen (Information Science | Class of 2019)
This summer, I’m interning at Cargo Systems Inc., a New York based startup offering on-demand, in-car commerce to rideshare users. I’ve been with the company for exactly two weeks to date, and have already grown an incredible amount. I’ve reflected on how my experience this summer has differed from my experience last summer, where I worked at a tax software startup in Berlin, and how ELP has contributed to that contrast. I came up with three main areas where ELP has made a significant difference in both my performance and overall experience at work.
Caption : a typical Cargo welcome
A huge portion of the ELP class is taught by guest speakers from various backgrounds. For each guest speaker, we are asked to come up with 10 questions as part of a homework assignment and submit them online. Although the majority of these questions are never asked to the speaker due to time restriction (in a class of 32 people, that would be 320 questions for each speaker!), I’ve personally gained a ton from these assignments.
These speakers are often experts at topics that I have absolutely no knowledge about. I’m a fairly non-technical person, and many of our speakers came from technical backgrounds and fields, so I found it extremely difficult to come up with questions to ask them when I didn’t know the first thing about what they did. However, this forced me to do extensive research on them and on the fields they worked in, and it helped me gain knowledge in areas that are relevant, important, and future facing that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own.
Beyond understanding the surface level of these topics, I had to come up with intelligent, thoughtful questions to ask the speakers. This was a timely task at first, but as I got used to the style of thinking required to ask good questions, it started coming much more naturally. This has carried into my workplace, and I find myself asking the same style of questions that I learned to ask during ELP at work.
Caption : the open floor plan makes it easy to connect with co-workers
Take advantage of mentorship
The people from CFE who put in all the hard work to make ELP run are some of the most dedicated and brilliant people around. For example, our ELP class was taught in part by Zack Urlocker, who is an example of an incredibly successful serial entrepreneur. It’s sometimes hard to grasp and appreciate the fact that I am surrounded by so many accomplished people in ELP who have chosen to focus their efforts on a group of 32 students, and who WANT to mentor us and see us succeed. I’ve always been bad at establishing relationships with my teachers and taking advantage of their expertise, but the approachability of the ELP staff made it easy to become friends with them, even as a student. After a semester of having great mentorship and support from the ELP staff, I look back and realize how many opportunities I’ve gained and how much I’ve grown as a person from having their mentorship.
During my internship last year, I lost out on a lot of great opportunities to ask questions and learn from the other people at the company, mostly because I was afraid my questions were bad and not worth asking. I often felt a lack of guidance there, but realize now that I never actively sought any. Even though I’ve only been at Cargo for two weeks, I value the opportunity I have for mentorship and growth and have learned how to take advantage of it. I view all the members of Cargo as mentors – not in a traditional business sense, but in the sense that I never hesitate to ask them questions about their areas of expertise, and I trust and respect their opinions and the things they say.
caption : Lola’s VIP, where all the ideation and magic happens
ELP simulates the real world better than many other programs I’ve experienced or witnessed. There are countless opportunities offered by ELP, but a lot of it requires initiative to be taken on the student’s part. The class, overall, encourages and rewards initiative in all aspects.
This might be the area I’ve seen the most growth in for myself. Last year, I took little to no initiative during my internship. The majority of it involved me waiting for my boss to assign me new tasks, and trying to occupy my time in other ways during the gaps between tasks. This year, I found myself writing down ideas I had for the company before even starting work. While my first two weeks of work consisted mostly of understanding the company better, I now feel comfortable enough in my understanding that I know which areas could use help. During the last few days of work, I proposed to my co-workers that I take on a new project – revamping Cargo’s social media accounts. This is something that I wouldn’t have thought to do before, but I’ve had so many opportunities to practice taking initiative in the last year that it didn’t feel particularly daunting.
Caption : carrying on the Michigan legacy of work hard play hard
Overall, ELP prepped me for my internship in the best way possible – it taught me how to be confident in a professional setting and to make the most out of every experience. I’m ready to tackle the rest of this internship and give it all I have.