RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina — At the 10th Annual RTI Internship Showcase, held August 2 at RTI International headquarters, more than 30 summer interns, from research units and areas across the institute, volunteered and presented their summer projects to RTI staff, area community members, family members and university partners.
RTP-based interns, as well as interns representing regional and project offices such as Seattle, Washington, and Dakar, Senegal, presented on topics ranging from medical device research to international education to marketing and communications. The University Collaboration Office (UCO) piloted an innovative event app to provide attendees with profiles on all summer interns, the showcase agenda and other information.
Interns utilized different formats, including poster presentations and lightning-round presentations, to communicate their summer contributions. Data science intern Caroline Kerry supported Rob Chew, Michael Wenger and others in the Center for Data Science. Her poster presentation highlighted research and software development to label textual data and build a machine learning classifier.
“This event is so valuable because it pushes you to think more deeply about your experience and to explain your project clearly and effectively,” said Kerry, an incoming graduate student at University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
During lightning-round presentations, interns took to the stage to explain their projects in no more than three minutes. Rising UNC-Chapel Hill senior Charlie Garnett’s presentation highlighted his work with Michael Gallaher, senior director of RTI’s Environmental, Technology, and Energy Economics Center, on sustainable energy solutions in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“This experience was the perfect marriage between science and business,” Garnett said. “Working with Michael gave me a more holistic research experience, which included learning about funding and project development. I gained skills in analysis and discovered different research tactics that would yield better results.”
Lab 58 immersive technology developer intern Kellie Jones, a North Carolina State University graduate and Wake Technical Community College student in the simulation and game design programs, conducted live demonstrations of her work for showcase attendees. This summer, Jones created a 360-degree framework in Unity3D, a game engine that provides an interactive experience while wearing the 360-degree headset. Among her projects was to create a virtual reality (VR) tour to help visitors find the new immersive technology lab in the Horizon Building.
While working with Lucas Blair and the Lab 58 team, Jones learned more about the engineering behind VR and augmented reality (AR) design and the importance of user interface to enhance user experience.
“The potential applications for VR and AR are limitless,” Jones said. “VR and AR are not just for gaming. One of the things I most enjoyed was working on an AR experiment that helps people learn how to use an inhaler. I’m excited to introduce Wake Tech to new technologies that can be used for training and simulations.”
Duke University biomedical sciences graduate student Prakash Sundar was one of many interns who volunteered at the event. As an intern with Facilities Strategic Services, Sundar created a system with data on which to benchmark RTI’s facilities and operations; he also assisted with the implementation of the updated planned maintenance system.
"I learned quite a few technical skills, but I think the biggest lessons I’ve learned are how to work effectively within the cogs of a large organization like RTI and the soft skills that accompany that experience," Sundar said. "I’ve also met some incredible people like the other summer intern in my department, Zach Nill, as well as interns in other departments."
Internship Program manager Amy Vargas-Tonsi welcomed all attendees, including RTI President Wayne Holden, other members of the Executive Leadership Team and Board of Governors member Hilda Pinnix-Ragland. She thanked RTI colleagues who worked alongside and supported the interns and celebrated the interns’ accomplishments.
“Interns, raise your hands,” Vargas-Tonsi said. “You are part of a selective group—you form a dynamic and supportive cohort…. Every year we receive thousands of intern applications. Of those, we select five percent to have the opportunity to intern and learn alongside our colleagues. You are remarkable students. You help us advance RTI’s mission.”
Outstanding Mentor Awards
In addition to poster and lightning presentations, UCO senior director Jacqueline Olich delivered remarks and shared the winners of the 2018 Outstanding Mentor Awards (more below), given to RTI staff who were nominated by summer interns for guiding, motivating and inspiring them during the summer. The selection process for the awards considered dynamics of the working relationship, guidance and direction, impact, professional development opportunities and character.
“We are fortunate to have such talented and nurturing colleagues,” Olich stated.
- Molly Chen, IDG, nominated by Monitoring Evaluation Research Learning and Adapting intern Meagan Meekins of UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
- Mary Beth Richey, HS, nominated by pharmacoepidemiology intern Sydney Thai of UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
- Nichole Scaglione, SSES, nominated by Behavioral Health and Prevention Research intern Jessica Cohen of George Washington University
This summer, RTI hosted approximately 75 interns from local, regional, national and international colleges and universities, as well as interns from high schools including the North Carolina School of Science and Math.