About the author: Kelly Leovic has been with EPA in Research Triangle Park, NC since 1987 and has served as the Project Officer for the Research Apprenticeship Program since 1996.
June 11 was my second favorite day of work during the summer. Eight high school seniors arrive on campus at 7:40 a.m. to begin their 6 week internships. The students are excited, yet quiet and polite, and I get the sense that this is going to be a great group.
The students are in their 4th and final year of the Research Apprenticeship Program, a cooperative training agreement between EPA’s Office of Research and Development and Shaw University, a Historically Black University in Raleigh. The Program began in 1990 to encourage high school students to pursue advanced degrees in environmental science. During the first 3 years, students take classes at Shaw, and the summer before their senior year, they intern at EPA.
I begin by explaining that they will learn a new language this summer called “Acronym Soup” and not to be intimidated. “Nicolle, you’ll be working in ORD in NHEERL’s ECD and, if you look across the lake, you can see NIH’s NIEHS. Caitlin will be in OAQPS which is part of OAR.”
It is a smart group of kids but, because they are teenagers, we review the program guidelines and dress code, i.e., EPA is a workplace, not a nightclub. Conveniently, cell phone use isn’t an issue because we don’t get reception inside. Next, it is time for safety training. Only a few labs on campus allow high school students, so it is important that they know the rules.
My coworker Suzanne then takes the students for ID badges. They always enjoy this part and, when the program ends, are usually bummed that they have to return their EPA badges. The students relax during lunch and genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. Being a mom myself, I try and strike a balance between giving them free time to “chill” and learning a bit more about them individually, such as where they would like to go to college. Finally, their mentors arrive, we make the introductions, and then send them off for a 6-week science adventure.
In case you were wondering…my favorite day of work will be July 18, when the students present their summer projects to an audience of nearly 100, including mentors, co-workers, family, and friends.