Practice Makes Perfect
Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program gives MIT students a chance to master non-technical skills.Video and photo by Lillie Paquette; Written by Jessica Jones
From its low-profile beginnings 15 years ago, MIT’s Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) has grown to become one of the largest co-curricular programs on campus. With nearly half of all sophomores applying each year, UPOP has earned a reputation among students and employers as a success accelerator.
A yearlong professional development program, UPOP gives students a soup-to-nuts orientation to the working world and helps them to find summer internships to further practice and develop their skills. The program provides coaching in writing resumes and cover letters, networking, job-search and interview skills, and it gives students insight and training on essential workplace competencies such as communication, negotiation, presentations, and project management. Through alumni volunteers and the many employers who work with the program, UPOP also provides coaching and career counseling, company field trips, and networking events.
“We’re building up the students' realization that the same skills that make them so proficient technically can also be developed to make them proficient managerially,” says Joel Schindall, director of UPOP and of the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. “We want students with the breadth and the perseverance to be able to solve not only the technical problems but the interface problems that must be solved to make their ideas real in the world.”
The cornerstone of the UPOP curriculum is a weeklong intensive workshop during MIT's Independent Activities Period in January. Students learn how to be successful in the workplace, getting experience with teamwork, communication, and decision making, and receiving one-on-one coaching from mentors who are successful industry professionals.
Each summer, UPOP students work across the U.S. and other countries in a range of industries. Students have held internships at 3M, Amazon, Apple, Bell Helicopter, Biogen-Idec, Boeing, Bose, Chevron, Chrysler, Dropbox, Facebook, Fitibit, Ford, Formlabs, General Motors, Genzyme, Goldman Sachs, Google, IBM, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Medtronic, MedImmune, Merck, Microsoft, NASA, The New York Times, Nike, Northrop Grumman, Novartis, Proctor and Gamble, Pixar, Shell, SpaceX, Stryker, Terrafugia, Tesla Motors, Tumblr, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Virgin Galactic, Walt Disney Company, Westinghouse, WL Gore, the World Bank, and Yahoo — as well as at a range of early-stage startups, and many more.