Angela Shiflet, Wofford’s Larry Hearn McCalla Professor and chair of the department of computer science, has produced a pipeline of sorts for Wofford students with internships that go above and beyond the norm.
“When I read about the projects some of these kids are doing, I think, ‘I want to go!’,” said Shiflet. “They’re really so exciting. And they’re doing things that really need to be done. It’s not just busywork. They are in the midst of high-powered things.”
High-powered as in NASA. High-powered as in Department of Energy Laboratories. And high-powered as in Vanderbilt Med School.
“One of the things that Wofford does very well is prepare people to think and problem solve and learn new things and communicate,” said Shiflet. “What these students are exposed to not only in terms of their field but also in terms of meeting people is incredible.
“They’re meeting really neat people, people they wouldn’t necessarily get to meet here at Wofford or at any other school. It’s very important for them to get away from school in the summer and not just work with the equipment they’ll need to master, but the people they must get along with as well. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Cases in point: Trey Bingham ‘09, a biology junior with emphasis in computational sciences, and Brad Neff ‘09, a computer science junior. Bingham and Neff are working at NASA Ames in California this summer. Bingham’s internship involves the computational analysis of the evolution of proteins. Neff’s involves deploying a remote unmanned aircraft system.
“Wofford has sent a number of students to various NASA institutions,” said Shiflet. “We are a member of the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium. Being a member, our students and faculty members can apply for funding from South Carolina and the Consortium will pay for their summer internship program.
“We’ve sent a number of students – 13 or 14 students -- to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California. This year we don’t have any at the Jet Propulsion Lab, but we have Trey and Brad at NASA Ames in northern California. We got another student, Marshall Washburn (computer science) ‘09, into an internship at NASA Langley.”
The internships develop in many different ways, and the students sometimes do much of the legwork themselves.
“One of our students, Kristin Kountz ‘09, is a chemistry major who is getting an emphasis in computational science and wants to go to medical school,” said Shiflet. “She’s very interested in research that’s being done at Vanderbilt University’s medical school.
“Kristin took it upon herself before fall break to contact the person who is the head of undergraduate internship programs. She told them she’d be there on her fall break and asked to speak to them for a couple of minutes. She was thinking she’d be lucky to get a 15-minute interview with the person. Because of Kristin’s initiative, that person set up an entire day for her. She had med students take her out to lunch. They were so impressed with Kristin that they offered her an internship by the end of the day.”
Usually Shiflet has had a much more prominent role.
“For 11 summers I’ve done research internships for faculty members at various government laboratories,” she said. “That was so beneficial that I wanted the students to have opportunities like that. We’ve been working with that for a number of years, trying to get students into it.
“If I hear a really good talk from someone who’s doing some kind of nifty research, I’ll go up to that person afterward, give them my card, and tell them about Wofford’s computational science program and the computer science program and what the students are able to do.”
Sometimes it requires extra effort.
“When you first tell them about the students they’re like, ‘Yeah, uh-huh,’ but when you tell them what courses the students have had and what they know, their tone changes considerably. Suddenly it’s, ‘Oh really?’ and they’re making eye contact and they become excited about the possibilities.
“A number of internships have developed through that process,” she said. “Making personal contacts is really good. Also, sometimes just looking on the Internet and seeing that someone is doing something really nifty, and e-mailing them. Or seeing programs that look interesting and getting the students to make the contacts and follow through.”