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Campus Life: Cal Parents in Tennessee host student for custom externship

By David Peterkofsky

A request emailed to all Cal Parents Ambassadors to sponsor an externship for a Berkeley undergraduate turned into a rewarding experience not just for a student, but also for a Tennessee couple who answered the call.

Julie and Paul Cummings made their first visit to Berkeley as Cal Parents this past fall to see their son Charlie, a first-year chemistry major, at Reunion and Parents Weekend at Homecoming. “It was phenomenal,” says Julie, recalling highlights such as meeting the dean of the College of Chemistry and attending a lecture.

Later, back home in College Grove, Tennessee, the couple got an email asking Cal Parents Ambassadors to consider arranging a winter break externship for a student. “Since we live out of state and not among other Cal Parents or alumni,” Paul recalls, “we felt like it would be a great way for us to be involved and establish a connection with the Cal network.”

They decided to take part in the learning opportunity, too. Both of them work in the health care field—Julie is an engagement manager for The Advisory Company, a health care consulting firm, and Paul is chief operating officer for InVivoLink, a care-management technology company—so they created a three-day program to introduce a student to each workplace.

Working with the Cal Parents program, the campus’s Career Center matched the couple with Jason Chang, a first-year microbial biology major from Walnut, California, who is focusing his studies on evolution and computational genomics. In January, Jason flew to Nashville—his financial aid covered his travel costs—and spent a day and a half at each company, absorbing all he could about health care relationships and database concepts (at Julie’s office), as well as ways to combat health care costs and optimize patient outcomes through software solutions (at Paul’s).

“It was definitely a whirlwind tour,” Paul says. “In the time we had, I thought that our best agenda would be to present Jason with as much of a real-world landscape as possible of how the health care industry works, to help give him context about how his future studies fit into that landscape.”

The externship, as brief as it was, made a big impact on Jason, both professionally and personally. “Before my trip, I wasn’t expecting too much, just a regular internship,” he says. “However, the way that Julie and Paul both approached me changed my opinion completely. Somehow, I felt like I was part of this enormous Cal family. I am still making my plans for this summer, but I am more convinced to return and work in Nashville, the largest health care community in the United States. This experience has kindled my interest in developing my skill set in mapping, reducing and analyzing the massive amount of data in the medical world.”

The externship clearly has enriched the lives of the Cummingses, too—allowing them to give back to their son’s university, even though they are on the other side of the country. And they strongly encourage other Cal Parents to follow their lead and lend a hand as Cal Parents Ambassadors.

“Find ways to get involved,” Julie suggests. “By talking and meeting with others, you start to get a sense of the culture of the university and have a frame of reference for what your child is experiencing on a day-to-day basis.”

“And volunteering creates a connection to the university,” Paul adds. “It gives you a sense of belonging and allows you to add value toward the greater institution.”

To learn more about volunteering as a Cal Parents Ambassador, visit


Jason Chang and Paul Cummings

Jason Chang and Julie Cummings