Internship program gives high school students hands-on opportunities

September 6, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Meghan Cunningham



Woodward High School student Kendra Payton a mask for photolighography; she was making a transistor.

Woodward High School student Kendra Payton aligned a mask for photolighography; she was making a transistor.

Area high school students are getting hands-on education and experience in an industry of the future through a program created by Dr. Adam Phillips, UT research assistant professor of physics.

It started with the Research in Science and Engineering, or RISE, program, which established fellowships for students from Woodward High School to work in the University’s solar and advanced renewable energy laboratories. Efforts were expanded to include another opportunity for Penta Career Center students to do the same.

“It’s about giving students an opportunity. Everybody who is successful gets there because someone gave them an opportunity along the way,” Phillips said. “I hope this program provides that chance for students to see science and research can be a fun career and it is something they can achieve.”

Each year for the past two summers, students from Woodward spent eight weeks in laboratories in UT’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization working with professors, staff and graduate students. Projects included building a clean room and testing the processes to make materials for solar cells. Jennifer Cousino and Tiffine Guindon were awarded the fellowships in 2010, and both now are UT freshman. Magic Morehead and Kendra Payton worked with faculty and staff during this summer. The opportunity came with a stipend provided by the Wright Center Endowed Chair for Photovoltaics and Innovation, which was established by the Ohio Department of Development in response to a proposal led by Dr. Robert Collins, Distinguished University Professor and the NEG Endowed Chair in Silicate and Materials.

Woodward High School student Kendra Payton a mask for photolighography; she was making a transistor.

Woodward High School student Kendra Payton aligned a mask for photolighography; she was making a transistor.

“Alternative energy is a problem they are familiar with, and creating more efficient and environmentally conscious technologies will be a large part of this generation. The financial stipend showed the students they could earn a good living if they chose to pursue a career in scientific or engineering research,” Phillips said.

It’s important to give high school students the opportunity to realize they have skills and abilities that are valuable to local industry and can lead to great career opportunities, said Elizabeth Buckholtz, a teacher at Woodward High School.

“When students participate in activities like the RISE program, there is a ripple effect within the school,” she said. “Students realize if the person sitting next to me in science class can work at a research facility, I can do that also.”

Phillips expanded the opportunity to Penta Career students during the last academic year to help them see how the mechanical skills they are learning in vocational school are transferable to several careers.

“I wanted to do my part to make sure that students studying automotive mechanics, for example, knew that their skills working with engines and vacuum pumps could be translated to equipment in labs like ours, too,” Phillips said. “I want them to recognize their skill set is larger than just one career field.”

Students participating in the first program were from automotive, green energy, welding and cabinetry classes.

“The student involvement was an enormous success. Students were able to take their technical training to another and much higher level,” said Dave Ziemke, supervisor of the construction and manufacturing program at Penta Career Center. “They worked in an environment where it reinforced the importance of both academic and technical preparation, and they matured professionally as they were assigned and completed increasingly complex tasks beyond what they would have been exposed to here at Penta.”

Phillips was invited as a commencement speaker at the Penta graduation ceremony in the spring as a thank-you for giving the students such an important opportunity.

Phillips and Dr. Michael Heben, UT professor of physics and the state of Ohio’s Wright Center Endowed Chair for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, said they are excited about maintaining and building educational opportunities for high school, as well as UT undergraduate and graduate students, to get hands-on experience in the University’s labs.