The spring commencement season is over, and college students are back to work in summer internships. This is the story of how one student’s internship (and mentoring) experience shaped her career.

Kim Cross started college as a biochemistry major at the University of California Riverside with the hopes of playing four years of college basketball and heading off to medical school (or medical research).

But balancing the demands of being a student-athlete and a biochemistry major was a little more difficult than she’d thought. Basketball practice, weight training, and reviewing game film left little to no time for vital study groups and work hours, which resulted in poor performance in biology courses–the foundation of biochemistry.

Compounding matters, Kim suffered a knee injury that was misdiagnosed in the midst of juggling her first term. Still, she had the opportunity to return to the historic Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) for an internship. LLNL’s Student Internship selections are based on academic achievements, experience, and scientific and technical interest.

“As I talked to my mentors during my internship I was told to stop focusing on what went wrong and pay attention to my courses that resulted in better grades: Calculus and chemistry,” Kim said. “My mentors happened to be chemical engineers and encouraged me to change my major due to my aptitude for applied science and fundamental chemistry.”

The total undergraduate research experience at LLNL also changed Kim’s focus. Post-graduation, while looking for a full-time job, one of her mentees told her to check out vacancies at Northrop Grumman, a global security company providing systems and products in autonomous systems, cyber, space, strike, and logistics to customers worldwide.

“After two unsuccessful interviews, he sent me a link for a job as a Survivability Materials Engineer. He encouraged me to read up about it and adjust my resume to showcase how my skill sets aligned. With his encouragement, I was successful in my interview and started a career within survivability,” Kim said.

During Kim’s short tenure at Northrop Grumman, she has won the 2017 South Bay Engineering Excellence award. She now supports 20 employees as the West Coast leadership point of contact for a program focused on design, analysis, and lab testing.

“My colleagues recognize my extensive contributions to survivability,” Kim said. “I aspire to be a technical leader within the aerospace industry contributing to strategic planning and development as Vice President.”

Kim also has advice for entry-level scientists and engineers:

  • Stay humble, be open to things outside of your norm.
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Do not dismiss anyone. There are things to learn from an intern onsite for a few weeks and from the technician who has 30-plus years of experience.

Kim is a member of the Materials Research Society, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE),  and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She won the Most Promising Engineer award at the 2019 BEYA STEM Conference.

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