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Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Students Apply Science Studies in Internships
Posted 11/20/2017 05:00PM

Alumnus Nick Fontaine '17 learned skills as a senior in Alisa Poppen's AP Biology class that, a few months later, helped him research the rare and deadly ebola virus as an intern with the Kay Lab in the University of Utah's Department of Biochemistry.

"It has been an amazing experience," the Rowmark Ski Academy postgraduate athlete said just halfway through his Kay Lab experience. "I've already learned so much about different research procedures and how professional labs operate."

Nick worked as a Kay Lab intern five days a week August 15 through November 8, and credited his alma mater for helping him hit the ground running: "Rowland Hall provided me with a strong foundation that enabled me to deeply explore specific concepts within a professional lab." In AP Biology, Nick learned about different types of inhibitors and how they affect enzymatic activity—knowledge that helped him explore the function of ebola inhibitors and their medical applications. And in AP Chemistry, he had to design his own experimental procedures for so-called inquiry labs: "This helped prepare me for the Kay Lab, where I had to creatively adapt my experiment to find the most effective inhibitor of the ebola virus." Nick plans to attend college in fall 2018 and said his internship has motivated him to stick with STEM and, in the more distant future, pursue a graduate degree.

The Upper School's innovative career-internship program, now in its fourth year, encourages students to ground their classroom learning in their out-of-school experiences. Students in grades ten through twelve can intern in a variety of fields, but stints in the science world have been especially popular and effective, according to internship coordinator Laura Johnson. Science Department Chair Ms. Poppen agreed. She lauded the program for giving our students opportunities to engage with science at an advanced level. Our students, in turn, prove they're prepared for such rigorous work, she said.

Internship mentors celebrate Rowland Hall students' competence and preparation. This past summer, junior Rob Welt interned with Dr. Michael Chardack, an orthopedic surgeon for Intermountain Healthcare. "Rob was alway cordial, friendly, and interested," Dr. Chardack said. "I am always amazed to see how well students at Rowland Hall are prepared to portray themselves in situations that are unfamiliar and require advanced psychosocial skills."

Rowland Hall primes students to be nimble in new contexts: our science department has made real-world applications of classroom concepts a central focus while implementing Goal 2 of the Strategic Plan. In Ms. Poppen's AP Biology class this year, for example, students will amplify their own DNA in order to determine which form of a gene they carry. That project and others like it help students learn standard lab techniques, such as micropipetting and running a gel.

Citizen-science projects also help students see real-world applications of subjects, and help them retain what they learn in class. In Anni Schneider's environmental science class, upper schoolers learned about Red Butte Creek and how to conduct water-quality tests. Then on Half Day Whole Heart October 11, they led a citizen-science day at the creek for our sixth graders. In Rob Wilson's ninth-grade biology class, students engage in a number of citizen-science projects, including through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its eBird program, the USA National Phenology Network, and Utah State University's Water Watch program. Mr. Wilson's students also collaborate with students in Brian Birchler's statistics class to complete genetics projects on plants. And there's the sage-grouse field study, which Mr. Wilson said exposes our students to a kind of scientific work often denied to high schoolers due to time and travel expenses.

Our summer 2017 student-interns cite multiple instances when their Rowland Hall education helped to elevate their internship experiences.

Senior Sidney Hare said the general academic habits she's learned at Rowland Hall made her successful in her work with conservation biologist JJ Horns. "The lack of fear to ask even the simplest of questions" helped her make the most of the opportunity, Sidney said.

"At Rowland Hall, the teachers accept and want you to ask questions," she added. "It was the skill that helped me get even more out of my experience at my internship."

Junior Celia Davis spent 35 hours per week for a month at Cytozyme Laboratories, a supplier of products and nutritional concepts for agricultural and animal production. She said her knowledge of chemical names and polyatomic ions from chemistry class made her more efficient in day-to-day lab procedures.

Several student-interns cited the relevance of our biology curriculum to their work. Avenues Pet Clinic intern Claire Hyde, a junior, located dividing cells in a urine sample based on her ninth-grade study of mitosis. And as an intern at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (TOSH), senior Youssef Salama built on his learnings from AP Biology when he monitored a cyclist for a VO2 max study, a trial measuring the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. While the cyclist pedaled, Youssef looked at computer data that showed exactly when the athlete's body switched from aerobic to anaerobic respiration, a topic he'd studied in detail. TOSH then used the data to help the cyclist maximize training. Youssef called the trial a great experience with a concrete connection to his classroom learning.

Junior Sydney Young studied dominant and recessive genes in Mr. Wilson's class, so during her internship with gastroenterologist Holly Clark, Sydney better understood why genetics might cause Crohn's disease. She asked Dr. Clark why the disease, which has a genetic component, often doesn't become symptomatic until later in life. Dr. Clark explained that's a question biologists are working to understand, and Sydney was fascinated to be able to connect her high school biology studies with current industry research.

From forests to hospitals, Rowland Hall student-interns take their classroom learning into the world and prove that application of concepts leads to mastery. Or, in Youssef's words, "This will definitely be something I am going to remember for a long time going forward." That's precisely the point.

To take part in the internship program or learn more about it, contact internship coordinator Laura Johnson at Read about one student's internship experience in her own words in this November 2016 Fine Print article.

Nick Fontaine '17 in lab

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