For the ambitious college student, there is no more Holy Grail than the internship.
“Personally, I got to see where my weaknesses were. In addition, I was able to get a feel for the different work environment and what my preferences were,” said Tiffany Bobb-Semple, an undergraduate student at The City University of New York Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y., who served as a manufacturing intern during the summer of 2014 at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Auburn Hills, Mich.
“What I liked about the internship was the network I have built and how they contributed to my growth as a young professional in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” said Bobb-Semple, who is majoring in Environmental Science.
As an intern with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Bobb-Semple, a 2014 Women of Color STEM Conference Student Leadership Award winner, wasn’t there for show. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work, creating a tagging solution for uncontrolled non-production materials and developing a best practice and storage solution for mercury tubes, according to her resume.
Altogether during her time at Medgar Evers College, Bobb-Semple has had three separate internships.
“Approaching to an internship, I believe that any student who lands one should set goals. Your goal will be your ‘GPS’ during your internship. It gives you direction and helps you figure out what it is you’re trying to gain during the internship. Whether it’s networking, learning, exploration or gaining valuable experience, your goals will help you to take advantage of that opportunity,” she said.
According to the website Internships.com, which is part of the Chegg Inc. organization, 67 percent of undergraduate students in the Class of 2013 completed at least one internship during their time on campus. And 56 percent of employers surveyed by Internships.com said they were hiring more interns in 2014 than in 2013.
The news gets better for STEM interns when it comes to paid internships. An October 2014 study from Michigan State University’s College Employment Research Institute found that engineering interns commanded an average mean salary $16.47 per hour, the highest amount compared with other professions in the survey such as accounting, business, social science, healthcare and humanities/communications.
Additionally, engineering interns at very large companies with more 10,000 employees averaged a wage of $18.86 per hour, according to the Michigan State survey. Those STEM students in the physical & biological sciences also fared well with an hourly intern wage of $14.31, third on the list.
Maria S. Ritchie, a 2014 Women of Color conference student award winner, participated in a 10-week internship at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y., in the Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences Undergraduate Program (CLIMB UP). The program provides students the opportunity to conduct laboratory research under the guidance of a faculty mentor while also participating in professional development workshops and presenting their research.
Ritchie, a student at Towson University in Towson Md., is majoring in molecular biology, biochemistry and bioinformatics. Her internship in Buffalo fundamental, she said.
“I learned the ropes of working in a laboratory,” Ritchie said, of Cumberland, Md., in Towson’s Class of 2017.
Working under Department of Medicine research professor Dr. Jessy Alexander, Ritchie studied kidney disease, specifically CD11b and its role in immune complex-mediated glomerulonephritis, an inflammatory disease of both kidneys predominantly affecting children from ages 2 to 12 years old.
“By talking to coworkers, I learned what the processes are for becoming a lab technician, researcher, and primary investigator,” Ritchie said.
Her laboratory work during the internship included isolating DNA from mice skin samples, conducting PCR, conducting and analyzing gel electrophoresis, paraffin embedding and sectioning, handling mice, injecting mice, staining microscope slides, and cryosectioning.
“I enjoyed learning how to search databases and use published papers to gather information. This internship taught me how to independently research a topic and utilize the information for experiments. This will help me throughout the rest of my academic and professional career. Interning challenged me to take on new challenges, and boosted my confidence in my ability to overcome them,” she said.
Ritchie, a member of Towson University’s Honors College, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and the Golden Key International Honor Society, keeps a busy extracurricular schedule. For instance, she is vice president of a student organization called “You Got Mail,” which writes letters and makes crafts for cancer patients; a member of Baptist Campus Ministries, and winner of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) Cadet of the Semester Award for exemplary leadership, high grade-point average and physical fitness.
Ritchie has this advice for students wanting internships: “Apply as early in your undergraduate careers as possible. Many students think internships are for juniors and seniors, but freshman and sophomores can intern as well. Do not be afraid to apply due to lack of experience or coursework. When beginning an internship, have an open mind. Observe the workplace, talk to coworkers, network and try to envision yourself as a fellow employee.”
Myela A. Paige of Baltimore, who has had two summer research internship positions along with a corporate internship during her time at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), proudly describes herself as ambitious and steadfast.
The Class of 2016 mechanical engineering major and Meyerhoff Scholar is also president of UMBC’s National Society Black Engineers Chapter.
Paige, whose goal is to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering, spent the summer of 2012 in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio researching thermoplastic polyurethane films; the summer of 2013 in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta researching ferroelectric nanostructures, and the summer of 2014 at Northrop Grumman Corp.’s in the Electronic Systems Sector based in Falls Church, Va., as a manufacturing intern.
Paige said all three programs benefited her greatly, but perhaps her favorite was Georgia Tech — for sort of non-scientific reasons.
“I was in a city that I enjoyed and in a school that loved. This summer experience helped me professionally by preparing me for public speaking. Every week, each student in the summer research program had to give a weekly update. I had to speak on what I accomplished, what I was supposed to accomplished, what were some problems that I had, and what I planned on finishing in the current week,” Paige said.
Indeed, organizations seeking to bring on interns rate communications presentations skills as one of a number of key components for a successful internship. For instance, a list of tips to interns (https://www.siop.org/IOInternships/Outstanding%20intern.pdf) from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Inc. highlights as a key attribute the “ability to communicate and actively engage with management and leadership without sounding academic or overly formal.”
Paige understands that sentiment.
“These weekly status updates gave me a sense of confidence when speaking to a group of people, and, in the end, I accomplished more than I thought I would,” she added.
Her advice to STEM students who are candidates for internships is to “be open-minded.”
“I was never exposed to research. I took a leap of faith and applied to these summer programs.” Paige said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but, by being open-minded, I traveled to Cleveland and Atlanta for two whole summers and never had any regrets.”
These days, Kadeine Campbell-Peterson sees the internship experience from the rear-view mirror, given that she today is a doctoral candidate at the Cohen Lab for Genetics, Genomics & Development at Cornell University in Ithaca N.Y. So while her interning days are over, Campbell-Peterson said an internship as an undergraduate at Marist College helped position her for her eventual field of study Cornell.
In her undergraduate sophomore year at Marist, she had the opportunity to gain experience shadowing a physician’s assistant on daily rounds at a hospital, and, as a junior, she spent internship time at a medical center. At the Vassar Brothers Medical Center internship in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Campbell-Peterson experienced the clinical setting up close.
“It was there that I experienced my first open heart surgery, viewed a complete hysterectomy, spent a harrowing eight hours in the emergency room, cuddled babies in the NICU and held the hand of a woman who while she was receiving her diagnosis of breast cancer,” Campbell-Peterson said.
That experience led her to make the decision to follow a path of research instead of medicine.
“I got a glimpse into a day in the life of a medical doctor from various specialties and realized that though I loved the background of medicine (the diagnosis, pathology etc.) I was not eager to live the life of a medical doctor. My experiences in the clinical setting made me reevaluate my pre-medical path and ultimately choose research instead,” she said.
Campbell-Peterson, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2009, thought she was on a path to be an obstetrician. She said students seeking internships should embrace them as a means of discovery. Now, she plans a career as an andrologist, a medical doctor or licensed physician who provides diagnostic and treatment services to men with reproductive health issues.
“By interning I was able to really tease out what it was that I loved about medicine, obstetrics in particular, and it had nothing to do with seeing patients. My love lied in the discovery and the explanation of disease, namely infertility,” she said.
Internships, Campbell-Peterson, help give students “the full picture of what a career entails so you are not wooed by the superficial.”