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Fall 2003 Vol. 3 No. 3

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Internships at Academies Give a Unique Window on Science Careers

Anderson Interns at the National Academies; photo by Vanee Vines A feature about astronomy on the television show "Bill Nye the Science Guy" was the bait that hooked her on science. The bright images and talk of faraway galaxies seized her young imagination, recalled Rahel Menghestab.

Now a freshman at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., she's weighing all of her options before picking a major, but she knows that it will be something in a scientific or technical field. As an intern at the National Academies this past summer, her experiences only strengthened her resolve to follow such a career path, she said. The internship centered on exploring ways to enhance workplace safety for employees in chemical industries and the uses of nanotechnology.

"It's given me real-life work experience, and I learned a lot about responsibility, time management, and research," said Menghestab, a graduate of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. She was one of seven Anderson Interns this year, the second wave of student participants in an Academies project with Banneker to expand opportunities for students attracted to scientific fields.

Anderson Interns at the National Academies; photo by Vanee Vines Each year, school faculty members nominate and select students for the internships. These paid summer positions are offered to four graduating seniors who want to pursue careers in science, engineering, or medicine. The interns begin working at the Academies after high school graduation and may be invited to return for up to three successive summers during their college studies.

Their work assignments range from reviewing scientific data to helping prepare major presentations or identify scholars to serve on Academies studies. The students also network with top researchers, said Warren R. Muir, executive director of the Research Council's Division on Earth and Life Studies, which has promoted and nurtured the project from the outset.

The 2003 internships were funded with a grant from the Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Foundation in Dallas. Jack Anderson, a pioneer in the management of health care companies, and his wife have long supported efforts to improve public education.

The division's associate executive director William A. Anderson -- no relation to the couple -- coordinates the internship program. "This is a rich environment that we're sharing with the students," he said. "On the other hand, they're leaving something here, too. We learn to understand their perspectives. We may discover better ways to disseminate information and explain who we are and what we do as a result of our interaction with them. As an institution, we gain as much as we give to these young people."

The internships are the cornerstone of the Academies' broader partnership with Banneker, a predominantly black, inner-city school known for academic excellence. The Academies have donated books to the school, provided guest speakers for classes, and sponsored its robotics team in a multinational competition. This fall, several employees from the Information and Technology Services department will help the school organize its computer lab, plus teach students how to maintain the equipment. More outreach activities are in the works, including plans to offer some Banneker students part-time jobs as docents at the Marian Koshland Science Museum, which the National Academy of Sciences will open early next year in Washington. (See Brief Takes.)

Anderson Interns at the National Academies; photo by Vanee Vines The partnership fills a need, said Jack Anderson. "We're talking about young people who, in many cases, have disadvantages. Those are important children to invest in," he said in an interview. Mrs. Anderson said America could do more to recruit and train its next generation of scientists and engineers.

Christopher Rogers, 19, returned to the Academies this year for his second tour in the program. In 2002 he co-authored two papers -- one on air emissions from livestock and poultry; the other, an update on activities of the Research Council's Committee on Animal Nutrition -- which were later published in scientific journals. He also accompanied division staff to a symposium in Antwerp, Belgium, where he presented the update. This year, Rogers pitched in with research for a study on infectious diseases. A sophomore at Haverford College, he's on the pre-med track and aims to someday operate his own health care company. His mother, a former nurse who currently runs a nursing home, encouraged him to pursue his lifelong passion for medicine, he said.

The internships have been valuable, Rogers explained, because "I've always been most interested in the connection between policy and health care."

Patricia Tucker, Banneker's principal, described the program as a boon for teens. "These kinds of opportunities were not available for me when I was growing up."   -- Vanee Vines

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Copyright 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences