An Iowa biomedical engineering student is getting hands-on experience in genetics research through a new internship program designed to keep University of Iowa students in Iowa after they graduate.
UI senior Dan Smart, from Park Ridge, Ill., is spending about 20 hours a week this semester working at Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) in Coralville.
“The web interface I am working on will allow customers to input a DNA sequence so the computer will display the characteristics of that sequence,” Smart says. Researchers can then use the information to order products from IDT, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of synthetic DNA.
“The internship is helping me get into the bioinformatics field, which combines my interest in genetics and my ability to program computers,” Smart says.
Andy Peek, director of bioinformatics at IDT, says the internship is beneficial for the company, too.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for both of us,” Peek said. “It allows us to explore a project that we wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to delve into, and gives Dan some real-world experience. In the future, Dan will be able to go to a prospective employer and say ‘Here are the problems I solved, and here are the solutions I provided.’ It will distinguish him from his peers.”
IDT’s partnership is the result of a new University program called Consider Iowa. Through it, coordinators at the UI Career Center orchestrate numerous opportunities for UI students to meet prospective Iowa employers, either through internships, student “road trips,” or by bringing employers to campus.
As an incentive for companies to participate in the internship program, Iowa uses some of its tuition revenues to offset the intern’s salary, up to $5,000 per semester.
Smart said he got the idea for his internship when an IDT representative attended an on-campus employer seminar organized by Consider Iowa in February.
“I knew what IDT did, and I’ve always wanted to go into genetics, so I went to the forum and gave the IDT representative my résumé,” he said.
Smart’s continuing initiative helped convince IDT to participate, Peek said.
“When he contacted us to see if an internship was an opportunity available here, it was not, but he reminded me that in my past someone had provided me with an early career footstep, and I wanted to return the favor,” Peek said. “Working with human resources here and the Consider Iowa program, we were able to pull this together for Dan and other students.”
Jane Schildroth, the Career Center’s director of corporate and community relations, says students are more likely to be able to visualize the kinds of jobs available to them by visiting Iowa businesses and meeting company representatives.
“It helps for them to get inside organizations to see what their actual jobs would be,” she said. “The Consider Iowa program gives us a mechanism to do that.”
The program’s road trips and seminars have the same goal.
The first Consider Iowa road trip—during spring break 2004—took about 29 Iowa students to Kemin Industries and the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines.
“The students saw some important aspects of these organizations, and I think it was helpful for them to see where they might fit in,” she said.
Future road trips are scheduled for spring break 2005 and during the period between the University’s spring and summer academic sessions. Companies on the tentative visit schedule include the Cargill facility in Eddyville, Kemin Industries, the Science Center of Iowa, and Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux Center, Schildroth said.
Beyond next year, the University plans to expand the types of businesses eligible to participate in the Consider Iowa program, Schildroth said. The initial focus has been on companies in the fields of biotechnology, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.
“We still want to focus on start-up companies and smaller organizations, but we are going to open it up to some more of the employers in the area surrounding Oakdale,” she said.
In the long run, Schildroth said, the Consider Iowa program will not just benefit Iowa students, but the entire state.
“Keeping students in the state is important for Iowa. This is one way we can contribute,” she said.
by Sara Langenberg