interns

Science Wednesday: Life after College

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Rachel Belkin

As a college senior graduating this May, the number of times I have been asked ‘what are you doing after college’ has multiplied as each sweet week of the safety-net of college goes by. Questioned by everyone from my mother to the front desk person at my apartment, I began to doubt the general idea of life after college and developed a fear of getting stuck at one job forever.

After another sleepless night a few weeks ago, I went to my internship in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). That day was the Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas’s farewell. Dr. Anastas, a.k.a. the “Father of Green Chemistry,” was returning to his family and to his post as the head of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

My fellow intern and I got assigned to the lobby to escort guests. We got to talking about life after college (what else!) and I told her about my crisis. She pointed to Paul Anastas’s vibrant career, which began as a staff chemist at EPA, then brought him to the American Chemical Society, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Yale, and then back to EPA as an Assistant Administrator.

During his farewell speech, Dr. Anastas gave excellent advice for the future of the EPA, such as the status quo being our enemy and not to steal from our children through environmental degradation. I couldn’t help but think about his career. I don’t know if Dr. Anastas had his own early life crisis, but he certainly didn’t get stuck. He’s had an amazing career doing things all across the spectrum.

Although I doubt I will become an EPA Assistant Administrator—and I definitely will not become a chemist—I took Dr. Anastas’s career as an outline for my own future. I know that whatever I end up doing this May does not have to be for the rest of my life.

With that in mind, I decided to revisit an idea I’ve been struggling with—joining the Peace Corps. Like Dr. Anastas’s two years at the helm of ORD, my potential two years and three months as a Peace Corps volunteer is really just a blimp on the radar of my evolving career path.

I finished my Peace Corps application two weeks after Dr. Anastas’s speech, and have been sleeping fine since.

About the author: EPA science Communication intern Rachel Belkin is a senior at the University of Maryland, and looking forward to what’s next.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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High School Interns Arrive

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.

A group of student interns walks in the door at EPA.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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.