Brookhaven Lab Community Bids Farewell to 2016 Summer Science Research Students

On August 11, 2016, the community at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory said their farewells to the 247 science research students who joined them for 10 weeks this summer. The daylong celebration gave students an opportunity to show off their work and featured speakers from Arecibo Observatory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and Brookhaven Lab. 

Coming from as far away as Puerto Rico, Texas, and California to stay and work at Brookhaven, the diverse group of interns joined world-renowned mentors on projects in all areas of Brookhaven’s work, including research at DOE Office of Science User Facilities such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

At the closing ceremony, Brookhaven Lab Director Doon Gibbs highlighted the vitality and energy the students brought to the Brookhaven community. “You all have incredible energy and a questioning attitude. You bring new ideas, and you ask us the hard questions,” he said to an audience packed with interns.

The ceremony began with a keynote address by Hilda M. Colón-Plumey, associate vice-president at the Ana G. Mendez University System and the Education and Public Outreach Deputy Director at the Arecibo Observatory, a space-gazing telescope located in Puerto Rico. She recounted her experiences creating a teacher-training program and revamping the visitor’s center at the Observatory, stressing the importance of uncovering the fun and entertainment within scientific rigor.

“Learning must come from inside,” she said. “I am a priestess for joy. I want students to like being in my class and laboratory; I want it to be a fun and enjoyable experience—an experience you would bring home with you. [That’s] meaningful learning.”

Colón-Plumey also described the importance of alliances and support networks between scientists. “You cannot do anything by yourself; you have to make it as part of a team.”

Likewise, the summer students’ mentors also stressed the value of collaboration.

“Our connections with each other are the most important part of our being here,” said Danielle Adamek of Auburn University, describing a point made by her mentor, Alex Soares. “He said that while there may be a lot of workplace politics in the future, we’ll always know we have each others’ backs after working as such a tight group.”

Reflecting on the past 10 weeks, Noel Blackburn, manager of university relations at Brookhaven’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP), brought up an ancient Chinese saying: Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn. “These last 10 weeks, you all were involved in authentic science research, and I hope you all learned. We were very happy to host you,” he said.

A glimpse into the summer internship programs experienced at BNL. Included are interviews with students and teachers and scenes of students at work and play.

Then, the lights dimmed and the students, mentors, and guests in attendance watched a video filled with student profiles, happy memories of the Safety Quiz Bowl, silly moments at the intern-mentor softball game, and the variety of acts at the talent show. Bouts of laughter and “awws” abounded through the room.

Afterward, Ken White, manager of OEP, commented on the welcoming feeling the Brookhaven community tries to extend to its interns. “A lot of the literature about students in STEM indicates that you may or may not feel very comfortable coming into a place like this. You’re in a place that has seven Nobel Prizes. Where do you fit?”

Looking around the room, he said, “By now, I think you know you fit very well—in the OEP family, the Brookhaven National Laboratory family, and the Department of Energy family.”

Frank Crescenzo, the DOE site office manager, applauded the students’ work. “We [the Department of Energy] are very proud of Brookhaven’s accomplishments. There are many of them, but among the most important are all of you,” he said, referring to the wide range of research projects the students undertook and described on their end-of-internship posters on display in the Berkner lobby throughout the day (and the day before). “That accomplishment is Brookhaven’s contribution to the next generation of science and engineering leaders.”

Lab Director Gibbs agreed. “It’s clear from looking at the posters outside, or from watching the movie, that an enormous amount was accomplished,” he said. “It’s important work, and it will have an impact going forth both on you and on the field.”

He invited all the interns to think of Brookhaven, or any DOE lab, when they are looking for a job in the future, although allowing that the interns could also be happy with a position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), led by the next keynote speaker, Willie E. May, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and the Director of NIST.

May advised students to choose exciting and motivating jobs over well-paid ones.

“It’s no fun, and no good for your physical or mental health, to go to a job every day that does not provide intellectual stimulation, challenges, personal growth, and personal satisfaction,” he said.

At the same time, he reminded students not to discount positions outside of the laboratory, noting that “you can have more impact on an organization in a leadership position than you can in a scientific position. If you have an opportunity to be a leader in a major organization, consider it,” he said.

Between the speeches, Berkner Hall’s lobby buzzed with noise as students guided friends and family through their posters, gesturing at graphs and diagrams as their guests snapped photos. A select few interns also had the opportunity to give oral presentations across the Laboratory.

“I learned so much,” said Klaire Hubbard of Napa Valley College, gesturing to her poster. “Before I got here, I didn’t know about column chromatography, resins, or polymers. Now I feel I can have a reasonable conversation about [this work].”

Beyond the intellectual stimulation, she had found a home at Brookhaven. “The people I’ve met have been fantastic,” she said. “In my department, they’ve been very supportive, very present, and very fun. It’s going to be weird not seeing them all the time.”

Kahlil Dixon, a recent graduate of Howard University, particularly appreciated the experiential nature of the internship. “Brookhaven National Laboratory is the only place where I’ve gotten to work on cutting-edge projects that are hands-on with lots of access to supplies.”

Elvis Torres-Delgado of the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, said, “It is really interesting working with the people here because everyone is very smart and everyone is very helpful, even if their research areas are very different.”

As many involved in the internship programs noted, these positive formative experiences are crucial to developing the next generation of scientists. Perhaps the biggest impact was noted by NIST Director May, who reminded the young audience, “The future of this world will soon be in your hands.”

2016-6551  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom