by Alyssa Cocchiola, associate editor

JANUARY 2022 — During students’ senior year at Bio-Med Science Academy, the majority of students participate in an internship. However, despite the internship being a popular choice among students, many wonder what impact internships leave with students after graduation.

Several Bio-Med alumni from the class of 2018 shared how their internship experience influenced their futures as college students.

Students from the class of 2018 pursuing a four-year degree are now seniors in college. Many of them who took on an internship opportunity in high school, shared their experiences and how their internship led them to their future majors and careers. During every grade’s senior year at Bio-Med, their senior photos are hung up and put on the wall in the hallway that leads into the commons. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola.

Bailey McKenna is a Bio-Med alumna who currently studies biology at the College of Wooster. During her senior year at Bio-Med, she interned with Dr. Hans Thewissen, the scientist who discovered the walking whale in 2008. This discovery is also what led NEOMED to establish their mascot, the walking whale, based on his discovery of the fossil.

During her senior year, McKenna’s internship allowed her to demonstrate her work to eighth-grade students at the Shalersville Campus in 2018. During that demonstration, she showed students a dolphin embryo, pictured above. Photo provided by Bailey McKenna.

At her internship, McKenna created 3D models from CT scans and initially planned to focus purely on the computer science aspects of the job. However, while working at her internship, she found a love for the scientific aspect of it, which helped her decide to major in biology.

“I really liked all of the science parts [of the internship], and so it taught me how to use computers to do science instead. It made me like both of those things even more,” McKenna added.

While her internship helped her discover her passion for science, it also provided her with career experience that she could take to other paths of her life.

McKenna explained, “I did an REU [Research Experience for Undergraduates] this summer at the Mystic Aquarium where I studied beluga whales…and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without my internship, [Thewissen’s] letter of recommendation, and the skills I learned there. I also use [those skills] in labs at school.”

However, not everyone’s internship was the same as McKenna’s experience. Many Bio-Med graduates found that their internship helped them realize that they did not want to pursue their initial career path of interest.

Caleb McCauley is another Bio-Med alumnus who initially planned to enter the medical field and pursue a degree in Public Health. During his senior year at Bio-Med, he interned at the Summa Health Medical Group at NEOMED. There, he answered phones, scheduled mammograms, faxed reports, and filed paperwork.

“My time at my internship was certainly fun and I loved all of the nurses I worked with every day,” McCauley recalled. “My internship was very helpful in determining my future career, because it shed light on the inner workings of the medical field, and it was a big reason why I changed my major when I got to college. It was a fun and great experience, but the work environment just wasn’t for me.”

Currently, McCauley is a senior at Kent State University’s main campus. Due to his experience with his internship, he ended up changing his major to Environmental and Conservation Biology with a minor in Climate Change.

Though it did not correlate with his current major, McCauley was still appreciative of the experience his internship provided him with.

“My internship helped to hone and develop skills that I can use in the workplace and classroom on a day to day basis. I went on to become a student worker at Kent State, so I performed a lot of the same tasks, just without a medical pretext,” he said.

Like McCauley, Neha Shah, another Bio-Med alumna, planned on pursuing a career in the medical field. During her senior year, she interned at NEOMED with Dr. Denise Inman, who conducts ophthalmology glaucoma research.

Shah stated, “Initially, it was really related to what I wanted to do for my future, so when I was doing my internship, I was considering going into the biology medical field.  I think for who I was then, it was really relevant. And I think working in a lab…taught me a lot about the eye or even biological systems that helped me in classes in college, at least in the first few years. But I think working in a lab gives you a lot of soft skills.”

She continued, “I think that it really exposes you to a fast-paced environment and what research looks like — kinda like the background of how to work in a group and how to figure out deadlines. And that’s something that you don’t really learn in class. I think that’s really helped me with my future, more so is just feeling what work is like, because I didn’t have that experience before, at least, what a professional background looks like.”

During Shah’s internship, one of the tasks she had to complete was imaging mice brains. “I was doing things that I never really did before,” Shah stated. “One of the [tasks] that I remember explicitly was slicing mice brains and imaging them, so I used to spend hours just going through the entire process…Thankfully, I never had to kill the mice myself, but then [I had to] dissect the brain and then you had to freeze it and they had a deli slicer for brains, and then you had to image it in a machine. Then I would analyze it on my computer and take data points.” Photo by Alexas_Fotos.

While she initially considered biology for the medical field, Shah is currently pursuing a degree in Art History and Public Health at Berkeley. Though her internship did not line up with her current major, she enjoyed the experience it provided her.

“As someone who decided later on in college that I wasn’t going to go into the medical field or anything related to it despite that research senior year, I still think that it was a great experience and made me the person I am today. That gave me a lot of skills that have helped me in college,” said Shah.

McKenna also emphasized the importance of not only using the internship experience to determine a career path, but taking the soft skills students learn with them.

“Bio-Med didn’t necessarily prepare me for college classes, but the soft skills I had did… I really liked it. I thought I wanted to go into computers, or at one point I wanted to be a human nurse, but [my internship] led me to [being a biology major] and it was just highly influential for my professional career after that,” McKenna said.

On top of the senior internship helping alumni determine their career path and providing them with helpful skills, they have also led to job opportunities.

After McKenna graduated, she continued to work with Thewissen during the following summers of 2018, 2019, and 2020.

“A lot of times, it was during COVID-19, so it was virtual, but it was sort of similar to what I had done before,” McKenna stated. “I was making 3D models from CT scans, and that’s something I did in my internship. I learned a new staining technique after freshman year [of college], but it was really cool because [I also worked with] someone else in NEOMED. It was really cool because that guy had gone to Wooster… so I got to learn about my own school and also science things. I did a little bit of the same [things], but also learned new skills each time I worked with him.”

She continued, “It was just nice because it gave me science experience for much longer than just senior year, which is not necessarily a guarantee for any internship, but if you like them and they like you, it’s pretty possible for them to want to hire you again.”

While the majority of students’ internships end after their senior year, it is not uncommon for students to be hired after the fact. McKenna stated that she enjoyed her time working with Thewissen and that the internship was very useful in terms of marketing herself on top of being an enjoyable experience.

While other alumni, like Shah, did not work with their supervisors after graduation, their internships still provided them with educational opportunities and connections with others.

“I always say that a lot of my success getting into the colleges that I did, and having that unique experience is what got me into Berkeley… just because, coming from a rural town like Rootstown in Ohio, I feel like you don’t get a lot of the same opportunities as maybe other students in bigger schools and bigger school districts,” Shah stated.

Another thing Shah appreciated about her internship was being able to build a connection with her supervisor.

“She taught me a lot,” Shah stated about Inman. “She really opened my mind to what was out there outside of Ohio and what opportunities I could look at towards the future. I think that if you have the right internship or if you have the right person helping you in your internship, then I think it can be a really good experience. I still think it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

Looking back on the internship Bio-Med requires, all alumni students were fond of the experience it provided them, regardless of whether their internship correlated with their future career or major.

McCauley concluded, “I think the skills and expectations that Bio-Med sets for its students and seniors may seem steep at the time, but our non-traditional senior year really sets up students to set themselves apart from other graduating students. We leave for college with volunteer hours and internships under our belt, and a plethora of knowledge found along the way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even though some nights I lost a little sleep.”

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