Despite limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students have been interning across the EM complex this summer with the help of creativity, technology, and a desire to learn.
The EM Minority Serving Institutions Partnership Program (MSIPP) successfully hosted and mentored 32 student interns virtually. The interns from minority serving institutions participated in several areas of research, engineering, and environmental science projects.
Research scientists and engineers from the Idaho, Los Alamos, and Argonne national laboratories, minority serving institution professors, and the DOE Idaho Liaison Office assisted with the internships.
The MSIPP Summer Intern Program has two components: research and educational. The virtual research activities addressed cybersecurity issues and explored technology focused on wind energy. The virtual educational interns took courses in environmental sciences and engineering. Activities in those courses ranged from creating simple technology to improve water quality to planning individual engineering projects using remote environmental sensing.
Florida International University’s DOE Fellows participated in internship programs at national laboratories and DOE contractors across the U.S. Eight DOE Fellows took part in remote or hybrid — which means remote and onsite — internships, working with mentors on topics related to robotics, environmental monitoring, high-level waste, and machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Following are summaries of the eight DOE Fellows 2020 summer internships:
- Jeff Natividad is participating in a hybrid internship at Hanford Site contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS). He is working on developing and validating semi-automated and automated robotic systems for safe and efficient monitoring of key equipment and structures.
- Michael Thompson is taking part in a hybrid internship at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), working on flight control systems for autonomous indoor drones. The goal of the internship project is to help develop and deploy a robotic system capable of reading and recording data from analog gauges.
- Gisselle Gutierrez-Zuniga is participating in a remote internship at the EM Carlsbad Field Office. Gutierrez-Zuniga is developing a web-accessible public database for meteorological data for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) with the objective of releasing a climatological summary report for WIPP.
- Edward Nina is working on computational fluid dynamic modeling to investigate the condition of high-level waste at Hanford’s Tank Farm in a hybrid WRPS internship.
- Juan Morales is participating in a remote internship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The objective of his research is to assess the impact of heavy metals in surface waters utilizing transcriptomic gene signatures.
- Aurelien Meray is taking part in a remote internship with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working on a computer application for analyzing groundwater contamination data.
- Roger Boza is working on a computer vision project in a remote internship at INL. The project is focused on the implementation of artificial intelligence networks for image processing and object detection. This project will streamline the data collection procedure for sensors around the nuclear facility.
- Christopher Excellent is participating in a hybrid internship at INL. He is working on the development of a mobile hot cell system to better store and process radioactive sources. This project utilizes robotics and sensors to create a system that can complete tasks in minimal time through robotic automation.
At INL Site cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho, some of the 24 student interns supporting projects across the 890-square-mile DOE site are working remotely.
The interns attend colleges and universities primarily in the northwest U.S. and are seeking degrees in information technology (IT), engineering, health and safety, and radiological protection.
The interns support the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, which is preparing to treat 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste; the Radioactive Waste Management Complex, which is retrieving, characterizing, and shipping Cold War weapons waste to WIPP; the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, which manages spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste; and other facilities that provide services such as human resources, accounting, and communications.
Fluor Idaho assigns interns to technically challenging cleanup projects to support veteran scientists and engineers. Students welcome the challenges and become valuable resources to the projects.
“We strive to provide an effective, hands-on learning environment for the interns,” Fluor Idaho human resources representative Brandi Nelson said. “The feedback we get from both the interns and our project personnel indicates that we have an effective program.”
The interns prepare presentations at the end of the summer that detail the types of support they provided, what they learned, and how their experiences have benefited their education or potential future employment opportunities. The majority of students who have interned with the cleanup program have said they desire to work at the INL Site upon graduation.
“Of course that’s always the goal,” said Nelson. “The intern program allows us as a contractor to determine if the interns have the necessary skills we need to eventually hire them full time. It also gives the students an opportunity to test-drive us, so to speak, as their potential employer.”
Nelson said Fluor Idaho generally hires a few employees each year who have gone through the intern program.
“What we find is those who have worked here as an intern hit the ground running as an employee,” she said. “They have formed working relationships with our employees and know the ins and outs of working at a nuclear cleanup facility.”
This year, some IT interns provide computer support remotely. Other interns working at the Idaho Falls and INL Site facilities have their temperatures checked with a thermal camera daily upon entering Fluor Idaho facilities. They also must wear masks if they can’t adhere to social distancing guidelines.
At WIPP, management-and-operations contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) hired 11 summer interns this year. NWP President and Project Manager Sean Dunagan had pushed to keep the program in place while ensuring the interns would perform meaningful, challenging work. Some changes to the program were unavoidable, such as a reduction in program duration from 12 weeks to nine weeks.
Most NWP internships focused on engineering, including mechanical, chemical, electronics, and computer engineering. Other internships involved business administration disciplines for training and procedures, and emergency management departments. A cyber operations student was chosen for NWP’s information systems department, and an intern with an occupational safety and health discipline worked in NWP’s safety, industrial, health, and site environmental management department.
In-person social activities, meetings, and tours were not held due to COVID-19. A luncheon for the interns was held in a large auditorium and required face masks and social distancing.
“Many have also taken the initiative to take work home so they are able to work offline on items in the event that it becomes difficult to telecommute,” said Logan Shores, NWP’s facility operations engineering manager. The students also presented virtual presentations on their internships.
Nearly three dozen student interns are continuing their distance-learning experience at Hanford’s tank farms.
WRPS, EM Office of River Protection contractor, has 34 interns this year, providing participants with valuable real-world experience and networking opportunities. This year is a very different, however, with interns serving in a teleworking capacity and spending minimal, if any, time onsite. Meetings are held using Microsoft Teams, and collaboration abounds.
“It’s a really good experience, and I have great support from my mentors,” said Natividad, a WRPS intern and one of the eight DOE Fellows who have participated in internships across the DOE complex this summer. “In the classroom, you build a product; being on the consumer side is a different experience altogether.”
“We are striving to be an employer of choice to attract the next diverse generation of talented professionals to help us deliver our mission,” said Santos Ortega, DOE Hanford Equal Employment Opportunity manager.