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SternWorks: Helping students take a different path

By Henry Mumford

Stern’s values website proudly leads with the statement “Excellence, unbound by tradition. People choose us because we are bold, nimble, fearless, hip, edgy, and innovative – a school rooted in rigor, yet on the cutting edge.” Despite this proclamation, the employment data looks decidedly old school. Year after year, the names and industries at the top of the employment list remain stable. To be clear, this is a huge win for Stern – sending more of its graduates to top employers every year is what has driven its rise in the rankings over the past decade and is increasing the value of the degree we’ve all decided to invest in. However, in a world where innovation and risk-taking are increasingly rewarded, it’s clear that more is needed for students looking to take a different path. The NYU Entrepreneurial Institute provides incredible resources for students looking to start their own venture, like the NYU Entrepreneurs Challenge and the NYU Stern Venture Fellows Program. Student-run clubs like ESA are building a community for entrepreneurs at Stern. But what about the students who aren’t ready to start their own thing, but still want experience pivoting to an alternative industry?

Enter SternWorks. Originally conceived in April 2020 as a way to ensure that Stern MBAs had valuable summer experiences during the first months of COVID, SternWorks evolved over the fall and winter of 2020-21 into what it is today: An ongoing program to ensure that MBA1s focused on alternative career paths have the funding needed to pursue a relevant internship. Internships that meet the eligibility criteria will receive up to $10,000 in funding through the SternWorks program. Twenty students were funded for their internships in summer of 2021 in industries ranging from sustainable finance to fashion. We had a chance to catch up with Viveka Mandava to hear a little about her experience, as well as Beth Briggs from the careers team to better understand how SternWorks aligns with Stern’s broader employment mission.

Answers have been edited for clarity.

Beth Briggs

Oppy: Beth, what is the driving concept behind SternWorks?

Beth Briggs:  SternWorks is about diversifying employment outcomes and providing students with a path to pursue their goals. While many students come to Stern to pursue banking, consulting or other more structured roles, there are others who want to test out something new during their summer internships. SternWorks helps to make that a possibility. 

Viveka Mandava

Oppy: Viveka, how does that square with your experience this summer? What did you do, by the way?  

Viveka Mandava: I spent the summer interning with Hill House Home, working on supply chain sustainability. I came to Stern to pivot into the apparel industry and knew that not many brands do on-campus recruiting, at least for summer internships. I heard about SternWorks and knew it would be a great program for me to gain experience at a smaller company or B-corp that might not otherwise be able to take on an MBA intern.

Oppy: D2C fashion supply chain. Definitely a little different than some other internships. You’re also co-president of SISA – how do those two passions come together?

VM: I was actually focused (and continue to focus during an in-semester internship) on their supply chain sustainability strategy. I had a ton of opportunities to apply sustainability learnings from Tensie Whelan and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business. It was a lot of research, interviews, and analysis.

Oppy: Amazing. What do you think you would have done if SternWorks wasn’t around?  

VM: I was pretty set on pursuing something like this, but having the SternWorks backing broadened the scope of opportunities I could pursue for the summer. A lot of growing companies don’t have funding for MBA interns. I had considered doing consulting as a step on the path to supply chain management in fashion, but decided last fall that I didn’t want to take another detour. I knew I was going to do spring recruiting, and that it would probably be self-sourced. SternWorks was like the icing on the cake. 

Oppy: Beth, is that the sort of experience you were hoping to create when SternWorks got set up?  

BB: Absolutely. Viveka is incredible for her dedication to the space, and everything she is doing on the sustainability front at Stern. However, if we can reduce that friction and make it easier for a student to take a risk and avoid detours on the way to their career goals, it could pay off in incredible ways for both students and the school. .

Many students can’t take a low-paid internship, because they have to pay rent, tuition and everything else that comes with going to school in NYC. And that doesn’t even address the potential students that self-select out of Stern because they don’t think they can afford to pursue their passions here. The Atlantic pointed out way back in 2013 the link between privilege and entrepreneurship. Our hope is that SternWorks can be another small step in the right direction by opening alternative career paths to all full-time MBA1s.      

Oppy: It’s hard to argue with that. What do you say to people who think that if you wanted to go into the start-up world, you shouldn’t have gone to get your MBA in the first place?

BB: That’s a much bigger conversation, but we think that the skills and network Stern provides are relevant and will drive a return for all of our students. Of course, it’s up to the student themselves to determine what is feasible for their financial situation. SternWorks is not a panacea, and Stern may not be the right thing for everyone considering their MBA. However, we firmly believe that Stern is better with a program like SternWorks around. 

VM: I’ll chime in here. Could I have gotten valuable experience at a fashion start-up without going to Stern? Maybe. However, my time at Stern is going to be an accelerant once I am actually in the workforce. I had a background in sustainability and social impact, but not in fashion or supply chain, so I felt I needed business school to make an intentional pivot. I also wanted to leverage the networking opportunities, Stern’s connections with the fashion industry being based in New York, and develop supply chain/operations skills. Lastly, I wanted to be able to advocate for stronger sustainability/human rights protections in the global apparel industry. To do that effectively, I knew I needed a more foundational understanding of accounting, finance, ops, etc. 

Oppy: So what’s next for SternWorks? How can students in the class of 2023 get involved? 

BB: We’re excited to keep SternWorks going and expect that we’ll be able to provide around twenty grants again this year. We’ve got a whole set of instructions students can find on the SternWorks website. Applications will open in December, with admissions on a rolling basis.

Oppy: How should students go about finding a company they want to work with?   

VM: I can take this one. Cold emails work. If you have a dream company that you don’t actually have any connections with to get your foot in the door, try an earnest personal email to tell them how passionate and excited you are about their work! I also know that ESA wrote a great how-to for identifying startups to target for an internship.

Oppy: That’s great advice. Is that what you did?

VM: Pretty much. I’d been following Hill House Home for a while with growing admiration and interest. In the spring, I cold emailed their public hiring inbox describing my respect for their brand, interest in supply chain and sustainability, and the skills/knowledge I could bring to their team. The CEO emailed me back soon after and we set up some time to chat, which led to a few more conversations with other team members to discuss scope and logistics, and then an offer!

Oppy: Incredible. What’s next? 

VM: My internship confirmed that I’m excited about working in a supply chain management role after graduation, and that I want to target a smaller apparel company that has the flexibility to let me weave sustainability and human rights into it as well. We’ll see where that takes me!

Oppy: Makes sense. Well, SternWorks sounds like an incredible program, and makes me proud to be a Violet. Bobcat? What is our mascot, anyways? Anyhow, before we go, any closing words?

VM: I just want to say thank you NYU Stern School of Business for facilitating the opportunity. I’m grateful to be at a school that supports its students in all of their passions and pursuits.

BB: Thanks to our incredible alumni for supporting this program, and to Viveka and all the other students for making it a success last summer. Viveka, good luck! Students interested in learning more about this year’s SternWorks Fund, should visit the Office Of Student Engagement’s (OSE) website for full program details.

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