Engineering Students Adjust to Research and Internship Experiences amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Anahy Diaz | August 25, 2020
The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Engineering students are keeping busy this summer, as they forge ahead with in-person and virtual summer internships despite the coronavirus outbreak.
Adriana Camacho, Naomi Ingram and David Reyes have been placed in varied roles across different industries to complete internships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges, the students have found themselves immersed in enriching experiences that they say have provided them with additional flexibility and efficiency.
“I am a very ‘hands-on’ learner, so it has been challenging but enlightening to work virtually,” said Camacho, a computer science graduate student who was selected as a 2020 NSF IRES US-Mexico program intern.
The internship was originally set as an intensive five-week research program in Guadalajara, Mexico, that aimed to enhance students' research skills and cultural literacy in the internationally emerging engineering field or industry. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Camacho’s internship is being conducted remotely. Receiving additional training has allowed students to adapt to the unprecedented situation.
Despite the changes the pandemic has brought, Camacho has remained focused on gaining the most of the experience by working alongside a team of seven other people to create a Smart City - Smart Mobility solution that focuses on safety. Camacho and her team are creating an application that aims to increase safety, as well as the perception of safety, in the Guadalajara and El Paso communities. This is achieved by enabling users to create incident reports that can range from potholes to theft crimes.
“I expect to get more team work experience in a different field than the one I am used to, in addition to combining different engineering disciplines,” Camacho said. Camacho contributes to the team as the customer interface lead and is also in charge of assisting the team’s lead programmer with the application.
Ingram, who is pursuing a master of science in mechanical engineering at UTEP, is also adjusting to the changes the pandemic has brought. Ingram is a recipient of the 2020 National GEM Consortium Fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship that supports outstanding underrepresented students pursuing master or doctoral studies and allows them to get industry experience in a field-related internship.
Under the GEM fellowship, Ingram was hired as an intern by Space Exploration Corporation (SpaceX), an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company. However, unlike Camacho’s virtual internship experience, Ingram is able to conduct her internship in-person by traveling between SpaceX sites while taking appropriate health precautions.
“I must overcome the challenges of doing my part to keep myself and everyone around me safe,” Ingram said. “I wear a mask, social distance when I can, and wash my hands frequently.”
Ingram’s duties as an intern include working with the launch site systems team to build and test the fluid operations to support SpaceX’s Starship mission, a heavy duty rocket expected to be a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars and more.
“The most rewarding part of my internship so far has been the strong connections I have made with other engineers and technicians,” Ingram said. “Being able to work effectively on a team is a skill I am actively seeking to improve. It’s fascinating to learn those different strengths and capitalize on them.”
For Reyes, his remote internship with Sandia National Labs has granted him more flexibility and a new perspective of the workforce, something he would describe as ‘interesting.’
“Normally, during an internship, you would be able to stop by a co-worker’s office and ask questions, or write on whiteboards to communicate ideas,” said Reyes, a computer science doctoral student. “I think this is a huge advantage to being onsite, as you might be going in for one question or to bounce some ideas around, and leave two hours later with more ideas that you never even thought about.”
Reyes’ internship focuses on two projects. One of them is to analyze, study, and reverse engineer malware that may be of interest to Sandia, by helping them identify the capabilities of the malware through detailed reports. His other project is a research approach to identifying malicious actions that could be hiding in files, with the possibility of developing the necessary technology to identify and thwart them.
“It will be great to learn the process of analyzing malware from detection to full analysis,” Reyes said. “As far as increased research experience, as a doctoral student, you can never have too much exposure to researching and writing.”
Like Camacho and Ingram, Reyes has found rewarding aspects to a summer that has brought a variety of changes to him and other emerging professionals across the globe.
“I think the most rewarding part of this virtual internship is knowing that I can still get experience working in the area that I plan to work in, but not having the stress of relocating,” Reyes said. “It has been a real relief not having to worry about finding a place to live or making sure I have everything I need packed. I can just wake up, get ready and be at work.”