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ENTRY POINT! Interns Wrap Up Internships, Tour Capitol Hill
When Jeremy Northum returns to Texas A&M for his senior year, the nuclear engineering major will have a lot to talk about—especially his internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
During his 10-week placement through ENTRY POINT!, a AAAS program that provides competitive internships for science and engineering students with disabilities at leading companies and government research agencies, Northum was in charge of developing procedures for removing radioactive materials from a laboratory at NIST in Gaithersburg, Md.
Northum, who has visual impairments that limit his field of vision, enjoyed applying information he learned from the classroom to his work at NIST because it allowed him to "work with very smart people on very intellectually challenging problems."
"The whole time, I kept thinking to myself, 'This internship really would have been whole lot easier if the materials were not radioactive,'" quipped Northum. "But I loved it."
Northum spoke about his internship at an afternoon event capping off ENTRY POINT! Capitol Hill Day, an event that brought together 11 other interns who had received placements in the Washington, D.C. area, along with many of their sponsor organizations including the National Weather Service, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters, NASA Goddard, NASA Langley Research Center, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Earlier that day, the 12 interns toured the Library of Congress and Supreme Court. In addition, the group got a behind-the-scenes look at the Capitol Building, where each intern met with the Congressional representative from their home districts or a member of the representative's staff.
Laureen Summers, a program associate for ENTRY POINT!, said that many members of Congress were eager to talk to the interns and discuss their research.
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) "talked a lot with Jeremy and was really interested in the nuclear engineering program at Texas A&M," said Summers.
Currently in its 12th year, ENTRY POINT! internships connect talented science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students with employers from around the country including IBM, Lockheed Martin, Merck, NASA, NOAA, and Google.
The program, which placed 47 interns around the country, is open to any full-time undergraduate or graduate STEM student with a disability. The program offers accepted students a paid, 10-week summer internship to match the intern's desire for engaging work with the employer's need for an expanded pool of technical talent.
"It's important that our workforce looks like the customers we serve," said P.J. Edington, an executive with IBM, a strong supporter of ENTRY POINT! since its beginning. "With an inclusive workforce, companies are able to develop products that are specialized for a small group as well as products that can be used by a broad clientele."
Virginia Stern, director of the AAAS Project on Science, Technology and Disability and ENTRY POINT!, said that the program is the only science and technology internship for people with disabilities that conducts long-term studies of the program's effectiveness.
"Our work is not done after the internship is over," said Stern. "It is very important that we recognize that we are adding scientists to the pipeline, therefore, we need to look at how many interns go on to get a Ph.D. and how many employers want to continue with the program. If something is less than effective, we figure out a way to remedy it."
Statira Petersen, who is completing a geography masters at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., said she enjoyed working at the National Weather Service because it combined her interest in science and policy.
"When I met with my congressman, Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), I grilled him pretty hard on some of his stances," said Petersen, who uses a wheelchair following a spinal cord injury. "Then he grilled me on what I am studying and what I did through the ENTRY POINT! internship."
Petersen, who teaches introductory courses in atmospheric studies at Northern Illinois, said that she very rarely needs accommodations for her classes or work, adding that Northern Illinois and the National Weather Service were accessible.
In addition to providing the students with valuable skills through quality internships, the placements encourage them to development a mentor relationship with senior scientists allowing both to serve as ambassadors to the wider community.
To accommodate for his low vision, Garrett Swanburg, who will be a junior in the fall, was provided several tools by Gonzaga University including large print textbooks, textbooks on tape, and a computer program that can read on-screen text.
In addition, Swanburg, a finance and economics major from Monroe, Wash., said that NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, where he interned last year, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he is finishing up his current internship, were able to provide proper accommodations.
"Both NOAA and NASA were great because I did interesting work at interesting places," said Swanburg, who worked this year in NASA's finance department. "I never ran into any significant challenges that could not be worked through. It was great."
7 August 2007