Summer Interns Make Their Mark
September 05, 2013 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Adriana Contreras, pictured here in an orange top and white hardhat, participated in a summer internship at ExxonMobil, the world's leading public oil and gas company.
For several students at The University of Texas at El Paso, the summer months were more than a vacation from early morning classes, final exams and research papers.
These Miners participated in the time-honored tradition known as the summer internship. Whether they conducted leukemia and stem cell research at Harvard, studied energy sources in Colorado, or traipsed through the rainforests of Central and South America, these internships offered undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to earn valuable work experience and grow personally and intellectually.
From June to August, UTEP interns made their mark at such places as Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. State Department and the Washington Post, all while representing the best that the University has to offer.
Here are a few of those summer internship experiences from students in each of UTEP's colleges and the School of Nursing.
College of Business Administration
Rafael Alvarado, senior economics and finance major, put the financial analysis and accounting skills he learned at UTEP to good use as a Xerox global tax analyst this summer, but the biggest lessons came from the "soft skills" that the company stressed.
Alvarado, an El Paso native, said before the 10-week internship in the Fortune 500 company's corporate headquarters in Norwalk, Conn., he attended a two-week camp in New York that focused on how to be a professional in a corporate setting. It included how to work with executives and preparation for asking good questions.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Alvarado, a first-generation college student who learned about the internship through Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, a New York-based nonprofit.
The paid internship went so well that his supervisors offered him a job in the company's corporate strategy division upon his graduation in December 2013. While grateful for the job offer, he plans to keep his options open.
Alvarado said his biculturalism helped him find common ground with his Xerox peers from around the world.
"That allows you to focus on the things that matter, like doing your job," he said.
College of Education
Truancy was one of the many issues that Fabens High School Assistant Principal Stacey Nuñez studied during his extended internship at the school. His passion and diligence were among the factors that earned him his job.
Nuñez, a former Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher at the high school, completed a 200-hour internship this summer as part of his master's in education – educational administration degree plan. He shadowed Robert Sepulveda, the school's principal, who retired after Nuñez completed his internship.
The new administrator said he was exposed to "anything and everything" involved in being a campus leader including budgets, personnel and maintenance issues, academics and athletics, and dealing with families. Nuñez said he focused on truancy cases because not being in class keeps students from reaching their full potential. His efforts sometimes took him to a judge's chambers in Clint, Texas, where he needed precise documentation.
"I tried to be a mediator," said Nuñez, who promoted tutoring, counseling, student productivity and parental involvement as ways to encourage students to stay in school.
Nuñez gave a lot of credit to the UTEP faculty who helped him through the internship.
"They were knowledgeable, flexible, and accessible," he said. "They're there for you."
College of Engineering
Adriana Contreras, a senior computer science major, participated in an internship at ExxonMobil, the world's leading public oil and gas company.
Contreras worked in the information technology office as a software developer. There, she helped develop a toolkit to visualize three-dimensional subsurface concepts and contour label placement algorithms.
Contreras said she enjoyed the level of technical knowledge and skills that the position required from her.
"My summer project was very challenging and I relied heavily on my pre-existing skill set to understand and complete it," she said. "I also appreciated that I was highly involved in daily activities that full-time employees were part of, including weekly meetings and on-the-job training. The employees that I worked with were always eager to help and didn't mind taking an extra couple of minutes to put things into context for me."
Contreras believes that every student at UTEP should do their best to participate in one or more internships during their undergraduate and/or graduate career.
"Not only are they fun and you get to travel to new places, they provide students with skills that are otherwise not usually taught in class," she said. "Best of all, you get to experience what it will be like working in your specific field once you finish school."
College of Health Sciences
For six weeks this summer, Angie Bentancourt studied the genetics of the crab hole mosquito – an insect with the potential to transmit infectious diseases, such as malaria – alongside researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas y Servicios de Alta Technologia in Panama.
Her tropical adventure was made possible by the Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) 2013 Summer Institute in the College of Health Sciences. The MHIRT program offers short-term international health disparities research opportunities for Hispanic undergraduate and graduate students.
Bentancourt was one of 12 student researchers from UTEP that traveled to Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama from June to August to conduct Hispanic health disparities research under the guidance of international mentors.
This year's trainees also included Alejandra Escareno, Areli Guajardo, Munir Buhaya, Melisa Cardenas, Esmirna Corona, Jasmine Guerra, Samer Hadrous, Alexandra Hernandez, Ricardo Parra, Elizabeth Preza, and Viridiana Sigala.
The program allows UTEP scholars to immerse themselves in the culture of their host countries while engaging in academic experiences.
In Costa Rica, Sigala zip-lined and water rafted through the rainforest when she was not investigating health issues that affect the elderly.
"I enjoyed all the cultural activities, but overall being able to go and conduct research and talk to the people who live there was really eye opening." Sigala said. "I hope I get the chance to go back someday."
The Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training program is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparities, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
College of Liberal Arts
During her time at UTEP, Nicole Chavez has been steadily working her way through a series of impressive internships – El Tiempo Latino, Brownsville Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution – culminating in a position at the Washington Post this summer. As a Chips Quinn Scholar, Chavez is one of more than 1,000 college journalism students of color who have been placed in daily newspaper newsrooms to gain real-world experience and diversify the media industry.
Initially intimidated by the company she was in at Chips Quinn – "Everyone was from Harvard, Columbia, American University – I was the only one coming from a non-Ivy League school," she said – Chavez's confidence was boosted when she was handpicked by the Post to be their paid intern for the summer. She is grateful to UTEP alum and award-winning reporter Alfredo Corchado, who provided valuable mentorship advice: "If they picked you, there's a reason. They want you to be yourself and like what you have. So own it!" That advice also bolstered her as the only Latino intern in the newsroom and one of less than 10 journalists in the entire Post newsroom out of hundreds.
College of Science
Rebecca Soto, a junior biochemistry major, was able to spend her summer in Cambridge, Mass. studying under the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program.
"I had never worked with stem cells before, but have heard a lot of promise about them potentially eradicating illness and disease," said Soto, who worked in the lab of George Daley, Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Boston Children's Hospital.
The lab's focus is to try to treat leukemia via transplantation of stem cells rather than bone marrow, which has few donors and sometimes is rejected by the patient's body.
"Stem cells have the ability to regenerate and renew once they are transplanted from the donor, so they can provide a higher efficiency of healthy blood cells for those with the disease," she said. "Although it's controversial, this research has promise, and I'm glad I was able to gain new skills and study something different."
Soto obtained the internship through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), which provides bright, motivated undergraduate students with outstanding summer research experiences.
School of Nursing
Angel Jauregui is not ashamed to admit that he was scared the first day of his preceptorship in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at El Paso Children's Hospital.
Before graduating from the School of Nursing on Aug. 23, Jauregui wanted to experience what it would be like to have a career as a pediatric nurse.
"The 8th (final) semester of nursing school is different," said Jauregui, who along with five nursing students, completed his final clinical rotation this summer at the Children's Hospital. "Your instructor is not with you. You're actually with the nurse, following them around and you're doing one-on-one patient care. And in my case, I'm dealing with babies."
UTEP's School of Nursing is the first nursing school in El Paso to place students at the Children's Hospital, the first and only separately licensed, independent, 501(c) (3) nonprofit children's hospital in the El Paso region.
Students receive specialized training in current pediatric treatment options under the guidance of qualified nurse preceptors.
Aside from assessing vital signs, administering medications and changing diapers, Jauregui did more than provide medical care to newborns. He learned from his preceptor that he also needed to provide compassion and comfort that infants need to thrive.
"I had the best experience here," Jauregui said. "The entire facility, they are very enthusiastic to have students and they're more than willing to teach us."
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