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STEM internship proves fruitful to students and WSMR

WSMR Public > Missile Ranger > STEM internship proves fruitful to students and WSMR

​Maria Figueroa-Valentin conducts a vibration test on GPS equipment Dec. 14, 2017, in the Dynamics Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Figueroa-Valentin is a former STEM Internship student who now works full time at WSMR. (U.S. Army Photo/Chuck Roberts)

​If you apply for a Test Resource Management Center STEM Internship at White Sands Missile Range, you should be prepared for a challenging 10 weeks that, for many, results in a rewarding career at the birthplace of America's space and missile program.

For STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) interns, the challenge begins almost immediately with a rigorous interview where students are already coming face to face with WSMR engineers honing in on their critical thinking skills with probing questions.

Former interns said they appreciated the mental challenge of having to come up with the best answer, as opposed to prior interviews that didn't make them think, said Patti Lucero, director of operations and compliance for TRAX International, the contractor that administers the internship for the OSD Test Resource Management Center to the Major Range Test Facility Bases and other military range and test facilities across the western region of the U.S.

If you are one of the approximately 14 students accepted into the program each year in the Southwest region, extensive planning is undertaken to match each intern with a mentor or team of mentors, and work that complements the intern's field of study and the needs of the organization.

"They're not just thrust into a project and expected to deliver a product at the end of the 10-week program," said Lucero. "Their work is real, relevant and mission related. The intent is that these students are going to be working on projects that are relevant to testing and evaluation, and to the mission of the installation. The robust curriculum not only hones on their technical discipline, but allows students to continue development of soft and leadership skills necessary for a stellar DOD professional."

Former interns and current WSMR employees agree.

"I was tasked with developing and maintaining software that had real-world applications that was currently in use. This made the work valuable and worthwhile to work on and made the program, as a whole, really rewarding to be a part of," said Daniel Fahey, who was an intern in 2014 while attending the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. A year later, Fahey began working as a computer scientist for the Army Research Laboratory at WSMR.

As an intern, Fahey performed computer programming with the opportunity to learn about computer security. As a computer scientist, he develops programs to maintain software created by the Army Research Laboratory, as well performing duties related to cybersecurity testing.

Fahey is a perfect example of how the process would work when Derrick Hinton, as the acting director for the WSMR Test Resource Management Center in 2013, envisioned an internship program that would hone in and align an internship program with the testing and evaluation needs for the Test Resource Management Center.

While there are degrees in engineering, math and science, Lucero said there isn't an academic course of study focused on test and evaluation. An internship program, it was thought, would help merge the desires and needs for both students and WSMR.

Hinton's vision has proven fruitful. There were 66 applicants in 2013 when the program went into effect, compared with 252 who applied last year, with 62.5 percent of all applicants across the U.S. coming from partnering regional universities.

Most applicants for an internship at WSMR are recruited from regional schools such as New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas at El Paso. However, as the internship program has grown in size and stature, Lucero said they are starting to receive calls from students at universities such as Cornell, MIT and Carnegie Mellon.

The program is available to sophomores through PhD students who have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Their courses of study are diverse, but commonly include computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics and mechanical engineering.

Students are paid as government employees based on their academic year, and some are eligible for a stipend to offset living and travel expenses.

Once students are on the job, Lucero said they enjoy being immersed into the world of working scientists and engineers. In addition to their projects, interns attend key meetings, meet one-on-one with WSMR leadership, receive evaluations, and make an end-of-course presentation of their projects at the Profession Development Center, where their work is displayed before university and WSMR leaders.

"They really enjoy being exposed to the day-to-day life of a professional and the opportunity of working side-by-side with them," said Lucero. "They start to connect the dots on what they are doing with the overall mission."

And for many, an internship piques their interest in a career at WSMR or with the DOD in general.

"When we have a student that says, 'Yes, I want to work at White Sands Missile Range,' they've already had hands-on experience. They know what the mission is, they know the relevancy of what they are doing and why they are doing it – for the warfighter and our national security. It becomes pride in ownership of what they are doing, and they can readily and easily transition into the mission," said Lucero.

That was the case with Maria Figueroa-Valentin, who was an intern in 2016 just after finishing her bachelor's degree at New Mexico State University and continuing on there to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering.

"I recommend the internship program to everyone. It's an excellent experience," said Figueroa-Valentin.

The Puerto Rico native now works in the Applied Environmental Effects Division, where she mimics extreme conditions such as wind and rain on DOD equipment projects in their developmental testing phase.

As a former Army vehicle mechanic, Figueroa-Valentin said she embraces the strict standards and rules required as both an intern and permanent employee. The mission, she said, demands nothing less.

"We test equipment that will be used in the future that will help Soldiers and save lives." 

For more information about the STEM Internship program, contact the career center at your university, or contact Lynn Dellossie at ldellossie@traxintl.com or by phone at (915) 775-0003.

 

This page was last updated on 1/2/2018 9:47 AM
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