Summer program mentors and coordinators hook students on science

Alex Juern, an intern in Fermilab’s Community College Internship Program, presented his poster this summer. His mentor was Damon Brice. Photo: Marge Bardeen, Education Office

Every summer, roughly 90 students participate as interns in one of Fermilab’s many summer programs. Now the last of the summer students has departed, and the Fermilab employees who devoted hours of every summer day to mentoring or coordinating interns are returning to their usual workday schedules.

Their value to Fermilab is immeasurable, said Sandra Charles, who administers the TARGET program for high-schoolers.

“The mentors extend a good deal of time and care to the students,” she said. “They work on meaningful projects with their interns and give them access to the expertise of the lab’s professionals.”

Fermilab runs nine summer programs for high-school and undergraduate students. The programs’ internship coordinators assign a mentor to each student, selecting tasks from a wide variety of projects. TARGET mentor Molly Anderson, Computing Sector, worked with a high-school student to develop and navigate spreadsheets and databases.

“For most of the interns, it’s their first time in a business environment,” she said. Her position as mentor allowed her to guide students as they learned about the real-world running of a laboratory.

The students are rewarded with experiences unlike any they have during the school year, and it’s just as rewarding for the mentors. Mitch Adamus, AD operations specialist, served as a mentor for the first time this summer, working with a community college student on an anode power supply for NOvA.

“He was a top-notch student – bright and self-motivated,” he said. “The students come to us enthused, and we try to nurture that enthusiasm.”

Stephen Pordes, PPD scientist, mentored two undergraduates in the SULI program and one high-school teacher, working with them to build a trigger system for a time-projection chamber.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I love it,” he said. “My aim is to get them to use their intelligence to get things done that can’t be found at the end of a book. It’s good to expose people to that early.”

The exposure pays off.

“Many of the students have become particle physicists,” said SULI/IPM co-coordinator Erik Ramberg. “Life as a scientist is open to anyone who wants to pursue it.”

And that’s the whole idea.

“The bottom line is to hook the students on science research,” said Education Office summer program coordinator Carol Angarola.

Once hooked, students have Fermilab internship mentors and coordinators to thank for it.

Leah Hesla