EntryPoint! Internships Help Students Map Out Future Careers

Joseph Neiman enrolled in the University of Nevada School of Medicine to become a physician. But he is also interested in how health services are delivered, and wants to pursue a master's degree in public health. What kind of future career, he wondered, could contain all these interests?

This summer, Neiman got his answer with an AAAS EntryPoint! summer research fellowship at the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery at Mayo Clinic. Paired with a mentor who aimed to give him a broad look at the intersection of health services research and medicine, Neiman worked on a paper about total knee replacement, a project surveying part of the FDA's drug approval process, and another study about shared decision-making between patients and doctors.

Joseph Neiman with statues of brothers William and Charles Mayo, co-founders of the Mayo Clinic with their father William Worrall Mayo. | Joseph Neiman

The fellowship "really confirmed that this is the field I want to be in," Neiman said. "This was a huge exclamation point for me."

The second-year medical student was one of 21 EntryPoint! interns who worked throughout the country in government and academic institutions and corporations at eight to 12-week paid summer placements. Since 1996, the program has recruited students with disabilities who are studying in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business for internship opportunities.

"An internship that has successfully matched a student with an appropriate assignment can contradict the stereotypes that tend to attach to individuals with disabilities," said Laureen Summers, the program coordinator for EntryPoint!. "The key is holding out high expectations for the student and the employer."

The "exclamation point" experience is a common one, she noted. "Students often remark on the quality of the internship assignment...and how the opportunity to work with and contribute to a team of professionals solidified their decisions to pursue a specific STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] career."

Neiman will be the first author on the knee replacement paper, and he has also been invited to speak at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and University of Nevada School of Medicine's Interprofessional Health Equity Symposium this October. "This was all beyond my expectations for this summer," he said. "It's really worthwhile to be contributing to something that people want to publish and hear about."

NASA was the first agency to partner with Entry Point! in 1996 and remains a solid partner. They have placed up to 25 students at NASA sites each year. Many have returned for subsequent opportunities, like Olga Agafonova, a computer science student at the University of South Carolina. During her first internship at NASA Ames Center, she worked on a project to improve an Android application that visualized air traffic control simulations. This year, she worked in the same Ames branch on a different assignment, creating a prototype website for airlines to help reduce flight delays through improved tracking of passengers and crew.

Olga Agafonova | Olga Agafonova

"I now have a much better idea of what it takes to successfully work in a technical role in a research-oriented organization like Ames," Agafonova said. "The sequence of internships allowed me to learn more about the branch I joined and the center as a whole, and it also gave me exposure to the Silicon Valley culture."

Summers said between 200 and 250 students, mostly undergraduates, apply for the internships each year. The Mayo Clinic is a new partner this year, but the program's past partners include IBM, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, Merck, Ball Aerospace and others. The internship stipend is paid directly by the corporate and university partners, and until this year the partners also paid an administrative fee to support the recruitment, screening, referral, and follow-up efforts. The partners can no longer support this fee, Summers said, so the program is now looking for new ways to make up this financial shortfall.