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Students Turn Internships Into Work Experience

By Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis


It’s not every day an undergraduate student lands his or her dream job…as a student. But that’s how it worked out for University of the Sciences physics student JENNIFER ROBERTS PHYS’15, who has spent the past several months working with a team of scientists and engineers at NASA to design a device for the currently-in-progress James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

“The JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and, by far, my favorite thing that NASA is working on,” said Roberts. “When I found out I was going to get to work even tangentially on it, I was unbelievably excited.”

robertsSoon after submitting her summer internship application last spring, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland offered Roberts an internship in electrical engineering, with a special focus on astrophysics. Her primary duty as an intern was to study the coldto- warm electromagnetic interference characterization of the Near InfraRed Spectrograph, one of the science instruments on the JWST.

She spent the summer deep-rooted in NASA’s Electromagnetic Interference Laboratory, learning how to use the various pieces of scientific and space equipment. Roberts also had the opportunity to conduct several short-term experiments, run a demonstration at a NASA conference, and get involved in different hands-on projects that all pertained to the overall development of the JWST.

At the time Roberts’ internship was scheduled to conclude, NASA’s Electrical Systems Branch opted to keep her on as a semipermanent, part-time contractor. That means Roberts continues to travel to Maryland one day each week to work on electrical engineering experiments, scientific graphs, and demonstrations for NASA.

“Although I am technically assigned to work on the JWST, most of my work lately has been more general than that, and I’m having the opportunity to dabble in a bunch of different projects for NASA,” said Roberts.

The JWST is planned to launch in October 2018, and its mission lifetime after launch will be between 51/2 and 10 years. The lifetime is limited by the amount of fuel used for maintaining the orbit and by the testing and redundancy that ensures everything on the spacecraft will work.

Roberts is not the only student from USciences who held a summer internship that turned into part-time work. Pharmacy student RICHA SHAH PharmD’16 completed a paid, full-time internship with Pfizer and still continues to work remotely for a few hours each week during the school year.

“The best part of my internship was learning how to work cross-functionally with people in departments such as medical affairs, marketing, and regulatory affairs,” said Shah, who worked in pharmaceutical research and development at the Madison, New Jersey, location.

shahDuring her internship, Shah had the opportunity to participate in clinical research projects that involved making prescription drugs available for overthe- counter purchase. As a result, she gained a profound understanding of behavioral and clinical studies specific to the switch from prescription to over-thecounter to help ensure that consumers understood their medications. Because USciences promotes interprofessional learning, Shah said it was fascinating to see firsthand how much departments worked together to attain a common goal: a successful product.

“Pharmacy is a diverse career, and we have so many different career paths we can explore,” said Shah. “It’s important for my peers to realize that it’s okay to step out of their comfort zones and try new things; there are other options for us to discover through internship possibilities that help us determine our ideal career paths.”

Like Roberts and Shah, occupational therapy student DANIEL FICHTER DrOT’15 gained practical job experience through an internship with the Ralston House in West Philadelphia. Fichter— along with five other occupational therapy students from USciences—spent the fall semester working in Ralston’s outpatient clinic one day a week, where they provided seniors with the support and services necessary for them to live with the best quality of life.

“This type of fieldwork provided us with a platform to analyze the role of occupational therapy within a community setting,” said Fichter. “Not only did we gain experience working directly with individuals, but we were also able to evaluate and intervene with a community group and aging population.”

Fichter said the team of students from USciences educated the Ralston House staff on how occupational therapy can play a distinct role in an outpatient mental health setting.

“It was our responsibility to integrate occupational therapy into Ralston’s current structure,” he said.  “We completed needs assessments, which led to more directed education and two program proposals that were presented to the Ralston House director and staff for implementation.”

fichterUpon graduation, Fichter said he hopes to develop a strong foundation in clinical practice and then explore occupational therapy jobs that balance clinical and community roles.

Through participation in a national initiative called the LEAP Employer- Educator Compact, USciences has also placed many other students in internships and rotations with science and healthcare-based companies, such as Independence HealthCom Strategies Group, Inc.

As CEO of this company, alumnus and trustee DONALD J. M. PHILLIPS P’70, PharmD’73 said that several USciences students have ultimately been hired after completing internships and rotations with his company.

“USciences students come to us with enthusiasm and energy, challenge us in new ways, and gain exposure that helps make them better healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Phillips. “In a number of instances, the rotations and internships have changed their professional careers and outlooks.”

Although they come from different academic disciplines, Roberts, Shah, and Fichter agreed that the applied learning they gained through internships and fieldwork undoubtedly helped them identify their career interests as well as their strengths and weaknesses in their fields.

Categories: The Bulletin, Alumni, Faculty, Students, Proven Everywhere, Academics, Leadership, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Misher College, Samson College, Department of Occupational Therapy, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Department of Mathematics, Pharmacy, Chemistry, Biochemistry