Today at Berkeley Lab

Facilities Hosts Five Community College Interns

— By Keri Troutman

080614img_4600-kellyowenPaid internships, rare as they are these days, often involve a lot of filing or database work and maybe a small taste of “real-world experience.” Not so in Berkeley Lab’s Facilities department this summer, where five community college interns received valuable, hands-on engineering experience as participants in the Community College Internship (CCI) program. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science sponsors the CCI program, whose goal is to encourage community college students to pursue technical careers relevant to the DOE mission by providing technical training experiences at DOE host laboratories under the direction of laboratory staff who serve as advisors and mentors. The Lab’s CCI program is managed by Workforce Development & Education. The interns, none of whom had any engineering experience prior to their summer internships, left as confident AutoCAD users with a solid understanding of where they’d like to take their education. Four of the five will be moving on to four-year colleges this Fall to work on engineering degrees.

Selected from hundreds of applicants nationwide, the students each received a $5000 stipend and a $1500 housing allowance for their 8- to 10-week stint at the Lab. They dove right in alongside their Facilities mentors to work on updating outdated electrical and mechanical documentation in the Building 50 complex and documenting the Lab’s many retaining walls.

“It’s definitely a different world when you have a hands-on experience as opposed to just reading about something in a textbook,” says Luis Sierra, 22, who will be transferring from College of the Desert to UC Riverside this Fall to study mechanical engineering. “Seeing how all the mechanical equipment actually works together to efficiently operate the Building 50 complex was the coolest.”

From left: Facilities mechanical engineer Sherwin Mendoza, intern Colin Nguyen, intern Luis Sierra, intern Luis Mojica , Facilities electrical engineer Doug Burkhardt, intern Heriberto Rodriguez, Facilities civil structural engineer Tim Hart, intern Yin Yin, Facilities chief plant engineer Mike Dong

From left: Facilities mechanical engineer Sherwin Mendoza, intern Colin Nguyen, intern Luis Sierra, intern Luis Mojica , Facilities electrical engineer Doug Burkhardt, intern Heriberto Rodriguez, Facilities civil structural engineer Tim Hart, intern Yin Yin, Facilities chief plant engineer Mike Dong

It’s the first time that the Facilities Division has hosted community college interns, explains Mike Dong, Facilities chief plant engineer. “We’ve had interns from UC Berkeley in the past, but this was a great opportunity to encourage younger people to enter engineering fields,” he says.

“None of the interns knew AutoCAD at the beginning of the program, but by the end they’d learned so much and were really very productive, helping us out a lot” says electrical engineer Doug Burkhardt, who mentored two of the interns. “Now that’s something they could put on their resumes and it could qualify them for a job as a junior drafter.”

080614img_4576-kellyowenYin Yin, 32, a San Jose City College student who’ll be transferring to UC Berkeley this Fall to study civil engineering, was tasked with locating and documenting all the Lab’s retaining walls for an upcoming DOE assessment. It was no small task, says her mentor, Facilities division civil/structural engineer Tim Hart, given that the Lab only had them listed in an Excel spreadsheet. Yin used AutoCAD to map them out and to work on a new design for one that needs to be replaced. She knew she wanted to study civil engineering, but after her experience this summer Yin says she’s also interested in structural engineering.

“While the experience was invaluable for each of the interns individually, it was also great to see them develop as a team of five,” says Burkhardt. “A lot of engineering is teamwork and coordination between mechanical, electrical, and civil.”

“What I found most interesting about the whole experience was just the purpose of everything; understanding where the pipes come from and where they run to and the systems they run through that each have a specific purpose,” says Colin Nguyen, 19, who just completed his first year at De Anza Community College in Cupertino. Nguyen says his experience at the Lab was a welcome change from his one previous internship, which promised hands-on experience but ended up being mostly office work. “It was fascinating and a great first step into this type of career.”