Two Seniors Dive into STEM Internships

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  Most students agree that summer provides a much-needed break from study, work and academics. However seniors Manny Camacho and Kayla Romero took advantage of it not by relaxing, but by participating in enriching STEM internships. Camacho spent six weeks interning at FermiLab, and Romero spent four at Tapster Robotics. Working hands-on in a professional setting allowed both seniors to grow as both students and future employees. 

     Camacho originally learned about his internship at FermiLab from Mr. Kleinhans, his AP Physics teacher. Along with being an all-minority program, the work’s focus on STEM sparked his interest, especially because he plans to major in computer science. Once accepted into the program, Camacho started working in late June and continued through August.

     He and the forty-one other interns started each day with four hours spent working for their supervisor on a variety of projects. Camacho worked for Brian Nord, a computer scientist and astrophysicist. The task assigned to Camacho and his partner was to “create a program that detects how well a neural network model classifies certain images by showing the user what [tools] the neural network model used.” Following a brief break for lunch, Camacho attended workshops which addressed relevant topics in the field, including networking, science communication, Python coding language and working with the computing platform “Arduino.” On the final day of the internship, Camacho presented his work on neural network modeling in front of over forty people, including quite a few scientists.

     Camacho reflects that the most valuable lesson he took was that “there is more than one way to learn beyond what school presents to [students].” In particular, the internship’s emphasis on open-ended learning contrasted typical classroom learning, requiring interns to adapt quickly. Camacho notes that in the world outside of school, you “cannot always be a learner that is guided.”

     Meanwhile, Romero took on her own internship at Tapster Robotics, working for the parents of sophomore Finley Huggins and junior Mary Rose Nelligan. When asked how she learned about the internship, Romero laughs, recalling a three hour conversation about robots with CEO Mr. Huggins on the flight from London to the U.S. during the spring Europe Trip. This conversation was the springboard for her ultimate employment. 

     For more than a month, Romero worked between twelve and fifteen hours per week with robots designed to test devices. She was assigned four robots to build, including ones that could hold a stylus, draw and play Angry Birds. The internship paired well with another of Romero’s summer endeavors: her participation in UIC’s Women in Engineering Summer Program, where she learned the basics of bioengineering and electrical engineering. She was able to work with robots, soldering irons, surgical tools, Solidwork models and Arduino. 

     Romero reflects on what she learned from her experience at Tapster, saying, “It’s ok to make mistakes, because I’m trying to find my essential products, and I can only learn from my mistakes by creating them.” Interning at Tapster provided an excellent environment for success, failure and improvement. 

     However, Romero also warns students: “The internships are not going to come to you. You have to go around and look for them.”

     Camacho and Romero’s internships gave them both incredibly valuable experience that allowed them to develop as current students and as future leaders in STEM. Both seniors encourage other students to seek out internships. Follow Romero’s advice: “If you get the opportunity, take it!”

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