During the search for his first internship, sophomore Kevin Ma hit a dead end. He had started off by going to career fairs, but came home only with swag. He stalked LinkedIn and job sites. He finally found his way to the Duke Alumni Association’s website—and there his career course shifted.
Ma logged into the new DAA alumni directory and began searching for alumni in his area. He messaged several dozen—and much to his surprise, nearly everyone messaged him back.
One of them was Lin Chua LL.M. ’00, the cofounder of financial tech start-up Internex in New York, who thought she could use the help of a dedicated Duke student as she got her company off the ground. Before long Ma had an offer for his first internship, working alongside Chua this past summer.
The experience was rewarding, says Ma, who learned from Chua to “have grit, to be passionate about what you want to do,” because he got real hands-on experience and was expected to be a contributing member of the team. But it also was surprising—that, at the end of the day, a “cold e-mail turned into a full-time internship.”
“If you think about it, it’s pretty bizarre—to have someone you’ve never seen, talked to or even know about send you an e-mail out of the blue and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk,’ ” he says. “But once you connect with Duke alumni, they are very willing to help you.”
Helping other Blue Devils get a start is certainly something Chua says she can relate to. After graduating from Duke Law School, Chua went on to work for GE Capital for ten years—rising as an executive and then pivoting to launch Internex, which helps small and medium-sized businesses secure lines of credit they typically might not get approved for by traditional banks. In the journey, Chua says, Duke alumni have been there every step of the way.
“It is extremely empowering to have that network out there that you can reach out to,” Chua says. “I’m a big believer in paying it forward. I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of help from so many people.”
That message of paying it forward is what Chua wants students to know—that the alumni community really does want to help.
For many students trying to find that first internship or job, the process can feel overwhelming, Ma says. But what the experience of reaching out to Duke alumni taught him is that it’s actually not that bad.
Even if the alumni he messaged didn’t have available internships, they were willing to give advice and make connections for him, Ma says. “It wasn’t so much a chore as it was talking to real people and hearing real stories.”
That spirit of generosity encouraged Ma even more. Ma considers the journey from lugging home career-fair swag to messaging dozens of alumni to getting his first internship a 100 percent summer success.
“I’ve learned that if you want something, there’s a way to get it—and there are people who have taken that path and who are willing to help you,” Ma says. “All you need is one.”
Start building relationships with fellow Blue Devils who can help you in your career journey by logging into alumni.duke.edu.