Front Range Community College Blog

STEM Internships Open Eyes to Career Possibilities

Ask any career counselor how to find out whether a career is really a good fit, and chances are one answer would be to find an internship.

Well, five Front Range Community College students are among those who found internships this summer.

And got paid, to boot.

Research reported in poster session

The five applied for STEM-related internships specifically for community college students that were funded through National Science Foundation grants. As their internships ended, these budding scientists presented their research at a poster session at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder.

Here’s a little bit about how the FRCC interns spent their summer vacations.

Geo-Launchpad

FRCC and a university consortium called UNAVCO manage Geo-Launchpad. UNAVCO, the National Science Foundation geodetic facility, is a non-profit university consortium that facilitates geoscience research and education using geodesy. Geodesy is the science of accurately measuring and understanding Earth’s shape, orientation in space, and gravity field.

Testing GPS methods

Kelly Billings and Bradley Norman worked as UNAVCO Polar Services interns and tested two Global Positioning Systems (GPS) methods called Real Time Kinematic (RTK) and Post-Processing Kinematic (PPK).

“These two methods can be used for similar purposes, but require different equipment, setup, and processing,” Kelly said. “We also planned and executed our own field project. We went to St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs and mapped the edge of the snowpack, then compared the measurements to last year’s results to monitor changes in snowpack extent. We also able assisted in preparing and testing equipment that will be used by field engineers during the upcoming Antarctic season.”

Kelly is near graduation from FRCC’s Westminster Campus with an Associate of Science degree. She is continuing at FRCC to complete more physics and calculus classes before transferring to Metropolitan State University of Denver to study meteorology.

Bradley has completed his first year at the Boulder County Campus. He plans to earn an A.S. degree as well as he progresses toward a bachelor of science in geology.

“This internship was a great opportunity to get a peek at geoscience careers,” Bradley said. “I got to see what scientists do. And the professional development opportunities were invaluable, too.”

That was another aspect of Geo-Launchpad – professional development.

“We had training in a variety of skills, such as résumé, curriculum vitae, and cover-letter building, effective ways to communicate science, interviewing techniques, oral presentation, and professional communication,” Kelly said. “We were instructed on how to make a professional scientific poster. UNAVCO also provided us with the opportunity to meet scientists and learn about different paths in geosciences.”

Field work at Boulder Reservoir

terrestrial-laser2627Alex Olsen-Mikitowicz, from the Larimer Campus, and Laura Fakhrai, Boulder County Campus, worked as a UNAVCO team to test the accuracy and precision of terrestrial laser scanners, using GPS. Their field work was conducted at Boulder Reservoir.

Alex, an Air Force veteran, graduated in May with an A.S. degree in math and is transferring to Colorado State University to study watershed science. Laura, who already has a bachelor of science in geology from Northern Arizona University, came to FRCC to earn a certificate in geographic Information systems (GIS).

“This internship was a good taste for what brilliant scientists do every day,” Alex said. “Not just in the field, but also over the course of an entire project, which can take weeks or years. We got a real-world experience to see what scientists do on a daily basis.”

“This was an incredibly valuable experience in hard research,” Laura said. “Some of the software we used I had encountered previously in my GIS classes.”

RECCS

RECCS stands for Research Experience for Community College Students in Critical Zone Science. It is administered by CU Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in partnership with the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research’s Critical Zone Observatory Program.

Debris-flow

Debris flow in the Collegiate Peaks

Taylor Schoenfeld is working on an A.S. in geology from the Larimer and Westminster campuses, and his RECCS research internship involved studying debris flow in the Collegiate Peaks area of Colorado. He focused on the size of sediment found in Chalk Creek. When it rains, the rocks in the area erode, and gravity and water pull and push the debris downhill and downstream.

“This was my first experience in field research,” Taylor said. “I learned what it means to be a research scientist. It definitely strengthened my interest in geology. I read research papers, learned technical terms, and gained experience in computer programming. I wrote my first code.”

Taylor plans to seek a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Colorado Boulder, CSU, or the University of Wyoming.

A new generation of scientists

The experience these students gained through their internships was a combination of their drive and the willingness of the scientists who volunteered their time to mentor them, advise them, and work with them on their research. This is how the current generation of scientists helps create the next generation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Feeley

is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.