COD Students Gain Real-World Experience at Argonne National Laboratory

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By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage students Nicole Amon (Glendale Heights) and Josie Suter (Naperville) gained crucial real-world experience while serving an internship at Argonne National Laboratory this past summer.

“I am really grateful for this opportunity,” Suter said. “We were able to work in the field we’re interested in, which is much better than spending the summer working at a low-skill job that doesn’t relate to our educational and career choices.”

During the internship, the students worked within Argonne’s Strategic Alliance for Global Energy Solutions (SAGES) Center in the Global Security Sciences Division researching and preparing lectures for an upcoming seminar sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization within the U.N. committed to promoting responsible and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. The presentations will be seen by economists, engineers, lawyers and other key decision-makers who are looking to establish and/or revive nuclear power programs in their respective countries.

The internships were made possible in part through the efforts of Erna Gevondyan, former COD student and current Energy Systems Risk Analyst on the SAGES team at Argonne. While pursuing her education, Gevondyan obtained an internship at Argonne National Laboratory, which then hired her for several years as a co-op student, finally bringing her on as a full-time employee.

SAGES Project Manager Gayle Maloney said Amon and Suter were encouraged to explore different disciplines and expand the possibilities of their interests through attending science seminars and taking advantage of other opportunities at Argonne, including participation in clubs, social events and speaker presentations. She said the internship also provided the extra benefit of providing her and others on the SAGES team the opportunity to learn new ways to better offer instructions.

“It’s been such a pleasure working with Nicole and Josie,” Maloney said. “They bring a lot to the table, have a great attitude and have done well with every task we have asked them to complete.”

Amon said the internship was fantastic and that the environment at Argonne during the internship was collaborative, encouraging and supportive.

“When I first started, I was nervous and afraid I would mess up,” she said. “All of our supervisors were very supportive and they set such an example that we wanted to be the best for them. With their guidance, I was always where I needed to be and they have truly helped me grow as an individual in the professional environment. It’s crazy what you can achieve when you put your mind to it."

She said that during the internship, in addition to improving her writing and communication skills, some of her most valuable learning experiences included learning to prioritize and balance her workload.

“It’s much different working in a professional setting as opposed to obtaining a grade,” she said.

Amon became interested in engineering after participating in a field trip to a youth conference at Argonne when she was in eighth grade. Speakers during the conference included accomplished women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, and Amon said she and her teammates broke a record in the conference competition that involved designing support for a weight by using only newspaper and tape.

“The hands-on aspect really raised my interest,” she said. “I was thrilled to be a member of the record-breaking team. I wasn't aware I could accomplish such a thing.”

Planning to graduate from COD in May 2018 with an Associate in Engineering Science degree, Amon hopes to continue her education, first earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and eventually pursuing her Ph.D. While she’s not sure what career to pursue, she could see herself applying her skills and education to advanced energy solutions or in the industry side of engineering.

Suter is currently enrolled in the Engineering Pathways program and plans to graduate in May 2018 with an Associate in Engineering Science degree, then transfer to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Suter said she had already been seeking internship opportunities and working with COD faculty members to develop her resume when the Argonne internship came along. In addition to improving her writing and developing self-efficacy, she said the internship enabled her to network and gain valuable experience in STEM academia.

“Because Argonne is a world-renowned research institution, there’s high importance placed on quality of sources, quality of work and respecting others’ work,” she said. “It was also a great opportunity to network with so many people who have outstanding accomplishments. I’m interested in the environment and this internship gave me the opportunity to talk to people who have expertise and experience in that field.”

Showing an early inclination toward math and science and inspired by her father’s work designing large industrial equipment, Suter said she is thrilled with her choice to pursue engineering.

“I wanted to do something STEM-related and engineering seemed to be the most creative of the STEM majors,” she said, “I decided to give it a try and I couldn’t love it any more. It’s a challenge but the further I get into it, the more fun I have.”

Prospective internship participants supplied a resume and a cover letter, as well as two letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Amon and Suter were chosen from 12 initial applicants after completing the application materials and participating in job interviews.

Gevondyan hopes that the experience will serve Amon and Suter well in their continuing education and careers.

“This internship has been designed to provide Nicole and Josie with valuable experience,” said Gevondyan. “Even the application process was an educational experience that mirrored real-world skills. During their time at Argonne, the students were able to gain practical exposure to what it’s like to work at a world-class institution and be exposed to the rigor in writing and communication at use in a high-level research facility.”

She added that the internship also provided the students with additional soft-skill development in areas such as self-reliance and learning to participate in the workforce.

While pursuing her education, Gevondyan obtained an internship at Argonne National Laboratory, which then hired her for several years as a co-op student, finally bringing her on as a full-time employee. While at COD, Gevondyan was instrumental in establishing a collegiate branch of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at the College. This past March, the SWE branch at COD won awards for Membership Retention and Membership Growth as part of SWE Region H.

Amon, who found out about the internship through her membership in the College of DuPage branch of SWE, initially wanted to attend Purdue but chose COD because it made more sense financially.

“I was hesitant about attending COD initially, but the more I spoke with people, the more I found that the College had a great reputation as a good school with excellent academic programs,” she said. “I’m also impressed with the dedication my professors demonstrate in giving their students resources, advice and support.”

Suter is also pleased with her experience at COD.

“College of DuPage is very strong in math and science so by going here, I know I’m getting a quality education that will adequately prepare me for transfer to a four-year school,” she said. “The College also has many ways to get involved and gain leadership experience. I got involved in the Engineering and Technology Club at the beginning of my freshman year and by the end of the year, I was elected president. I’m so glad that I get to start leading early instead of waiting until junior year to gain these experiences.”

The Engineering program at College of DuPage provides the first two years of baccalaureate work that includes courses in mathematics, computer programming, chemistry, physics, engineering graphics, mechanics, circuits and general studies. Upon completion of the Associate in Engineering Science degree, students transfer to baccalaureate-granting institutions, where they complete their bachelor's degree in engineering. For more information, visit www.cod.edu/programs/engineering.

(Pictured from left to right: Erna Gevondyan, Josie Suter and Nicole Amon/Photo by College of DuPage)

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