Summer is often thought of as a time for rest and relaxation, but for many Carnegie Mellon University students, it’s a chance to take on opportunities they otherwise might not have time for during the busy school year. Across the College of Engineering, undergraduate and graduate students alike have been hard at work in internships throughout the country. Some have been lucky enough to work on-site; others enjoy the work from home. But what makes internships so important, so much so that students will spend entire summers on them?
“It can be incredibly helpful for your career if you have at least one summer internship before you graduate,” says Career Consultant Team Director, Lisa Dickter. She works specifically with undergraduate mechanical engineering students at Carnegie Mellon’s Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC). “I help them to make sure that they have a strong resume, have good interviewing skills and that they know how to conduct a successful search in order to get at least one internship in industry before they graduate.”
It’s clear that many students agree with this advice. From vaccine manufacturing, to medical image processing, to helping to operate an aircraft, Carnegie Mellon engineers are putting their learned skills to work.
Non-invasive brain investigation
First-year biomedical engineering master’s student Argaja Deepak Shende is a perfect example of this. She’s an image processing and analysis intern at Liminal Sciences, a start-up seeking to develop non-invasive diagnostic methods in the brain through methods including ultrasound imaging.
“My work is focused on image and signal processing. It’s basically real-time, as the imaging is done using techniques like image processing and computer vision,” she explained.
Shende had only completed one semester of her master’s upon starting at Liminal Sciences, but even that short amount of coursework—especially a course on medical imaging—helped her stand out as an applicant.
To her, medical imaging is an integral part of the treatment process. “If you have better image qualities, you can really help the technicians to diagnose better, faster, and more accurately.” She wants to continue work in the field after graduation and sees this as a perfect step in that direction.
The small team she’s been a part of at Liminal has allowed her the chance to get plenty of feedback and individualized attention on her projects, something she is incredibly thankful for. She’s returned to Carnegie Mellon to continue her degree this fall, this time with real-world experience in both her course of study and skills beyond it.
Personalized prosthesis and experiences
Senior Summer Faille had a similar idea and found an internship that fit squarely within her two majors: mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. She’s an intern at biodesigns, a small, West Coast start-up that specializes in personalized prostheses developed using founder Randall Alley’s Hi-Fidelity Interface Socket design, providing a more personalized solution to the patient. Faille spent much of her day working alongside the company’s prosthetist, observing him as he worked with the patients.
Right now, Faille is debating whether to go on to medical school or move into industry after graduation, and she’s cleverly chosen an internship that will help her in both. “I was trying to find something that would be both engineering-related and worked for pre-med. So, prosthetics is something that I thought was a mix of both things,” she explained. Faille also worked to try and understand the barriers to marketing the High-Fidelity system, compiling a list of and contacting orthopedic surgeons across the country.
Her experience has been incredibly valuable, thanks to the personalized nature of her work. “Biodesigns kind of gets these cases that are the last resort. It’s like, ‘If this doesn't work, I’m not going to be walking,’” she explained. “So, seeing these patients come in and then within a week be able to start walking again is really rewarding.”
Whether Faille ends up working in the prosthetics industry or works her way to medical school, this experience will undoubtedly be one to remember.
Teamwork taken to the skies
Another student using his internship experience as a means of career exploration—albeit in a very different way—is senior mechanical engineering student Rocco Chirieleison. He’s a member of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) chapter here at Carnegie Mellon, which requires an internship experience through the program each summer. He expressed his interest in naval aviation to his supervisor, who was able to secure him a spot on P8 squadron VP26 in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his cohort of interns have had the chance to see every aspect of the P8’s functioning.
Though the team primarily functions to observe and learn, Chirieleison has applied aspects of his educational background, such as concepts from classes including Fluid Dynamics or Dynamic Systems and Controls. Even his experience as a member of the football team comes into play, as the crew’s team dynamic is essential for the squadron to function efficiently and elegantly.
“It's very much a team atmosphere, which is in a way unique to P8 squadrons because the crew is so large. From the pilots to the enlisted guys to the radar and the technicians in the back, everybody needs to be on the same page to make sure that things go to plan,” he said.
After graduation, Chirieleison will serve active duty in the Navy for at least five years. Through this experience, though, he’s been given a clearer picture of what that time may look like.
Chirieleison is one student whose summer experience has offered an experience somewhat “outside of the norm” for students in that course of study. Two other students doing something similar are junior Nicole Jani and fifth-year master’s student Stefanie McMillian.
Computation modeling makes hairstyling safer
Jani studies mechanical and biomedical engineering and has spent the summer working for consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble (P&G) as a beauty care research and development intern. She works specifically with hair treatment and styling products—as she described it, “everything that’s outside of the shower.”
Jani’s specific project is to create a model that pulls together information from separate databases of testing and product information to allow researchers to access it more readily. “They're missing out on a big portion of the data that they’ve been collecting, and this model will allow them to actually view and visualize the stability data like never before. Then, they can make any conclusions about patterns that they see much faster,” she explained.
Though she admits that this experience isn’t mechanical engineering in the most traditional sense, she still finds that her coursework carries over, saying that “the problem solving that I have to do in my internship stemmed from the work that I’ve done at CMU.” The time spent working in computing and coding will also help as she works to pick up a minor in computer science.
A new year, a new field
Stefanie McMillan had a similar idea. A biomedical engineering master’s student graduating in December of 2021, she got an extra summer in between semesters to fill with a new internship experience, this time, for pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. McMillan has the chance to work on-site as part of her position, getting up-close and personal with the manufacturing process.
McMillan wanted to try out a new field, feeling confident that her background in materials science and engineering had prepared her for the pharmaceutical industry.
“It really shows me that with a Carnegie Mellon education, it’s just how you learn, how you study, the excitement of learning new things, being able to talk with others, and reaching out for help. Those skills that you’ve really been able to develop throughout the years, come to fruition,” she recalled.
Merck has certainly keept McMillian busy this summer, with four active different projects. All of them involve pneumococcal vaccines, and all serve to make the manufacturing process more efficient in a variety of different ways. “I’ve really enjoyed being able to have tangible projects where I can say, ‘I worked on this. I did it.’ I think that’s one of the great things about Merck, especially this summer. You’re making an impact even as an intern,” she explained.
McMillian will be returning to Merck this spring in a full-time position.
If there’s one thing that these stories makes clear, it’s that there’s no one way to do a summer internship. Many students expressed that their previous experiences helped them to learn what they didn’t want from an internship and used that to steer themselves toward a more exciting or interesting career path in future semesters. Or they found themselves applying skills they’d never think would come in handy, like team dynamics or project management.
So, if you are interested in finding that perfect internship, Dickter suggests casting a wide net and utilizing your network, whether it consists of Carnegie Mellon alumni or beyond. After all, you’ll never quite know what you’ll get out of an internship experience unless you search for one and try it out.