Opportunities for opening unique internship programs for students with disabilities

Finding valuable summer internship experiences in the professional fields of science, engineering, and computer science can be difficult for students in their first two years of college.

The challenges are even more complex for students with disabilities. However, they are not stopping four Rose-Hulman students from gaining paid opportunities this summer with Eli Lilly & Company, Cummins Inc., Eskenazi Health and BraunAbility through internships offered by the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis.

This is the third consecutive summer that students are learning skills, expanding their professional networks, and writing resumes that can help them gain greater self-confidence, economic independence, and future job opportunities.

Fehribach Center Director Larry Merkel said, “Rose-Hulman students have engineering and science skills that are sought after by Indiana employers. Once we have identified interested students, there are usually a multitude of internships available for them.

Merkel points to a report from the United States Bureau of Labor highlighting that 25.7% of 2021 college graduates with disabilities found employment, compared to 72.1% of college graduates without disabilities.

Internships are important for improving employment opportunities for students with disabilities, according to Patty Eaton, PhD, director of student accessibility services at Rose-Hulman. She says, “These students just need a chance to show off their extraordinary skills and apply the lessons they learn at Rose in real work or research environments. This internship program has been a win-win situation for students and employers. »

Nine Rose-Hulman students have participated in the program since the summer of 2020, and recent graduates have used the experiences to earn full-time jobs and be accepted into doctoral programs – fulfilling their career aspirations.

Biomedical engineering student Ashley Parker, who suffers from hearing loss, is learning about medical devices this summer with Eskenazi Health after spending last summer with the Pain and Migraine team at Eli Lilly & Company. She has worked on several clinical trial projects for the pharmaceutical company’s headache drug currently in development.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to explore other opportunities in biomedical engineering, especially in the development of medical devices. This is an area that currently interests me. Being able to work in this field at one of Indianapolis’ leading hospitals is a great opportunity,” Parker says.

Meanwhile, computer science major Elijah Watson learns how Lilly manages data systems. Gabe Neise, an electrical engineering student, gets his first work experience in electronic circuits at Cummins in Columbus, Indiana. And engineering design major Alec O’Connor is an intern at BraunAbility, a Winamac, Indiana, company that outfits pickup trucks with the technology needed to convert them into wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“This internship (with BraunAbility) is ideal with my interest in product design and my ability to understand the challenges faced by people in wheelchairs,” said O’Connor, who has physical limitations. “It will be interesting to see what happens in product development for people like me who need help.”

Watson adds that Lilly’s internship this summer could help shape the scope of her possible IT career, while Neise, who has hearing limitations, says working at Cummins will provide valuable experience on how aspects of electrical engineering are applied in manufacturing. Both students recently completed their second year in their Rose-Hulman University programs.

“At this stage, I found my (computing) lessons interesting. This summer will be an important step to see how my computer skills can be applied in industry. It should help shape the future course of my studies and my future work opportunities,” said Watson, who has a hearing disability.

Emily Malueg, a 2021 mechanical engineering graduate, recently won Fehribach Center’s first Dustin Gilmer Excellence Award after working as a biomedical engineering intern at Eskenazi Health in 2020 and 2021. Her work in preventative maintenance and repair of the hospital’s medical equipment helped her land a job as a continuous improvement engineer at Fehribach Center partner BraunAbility. It works as a bridge between the design and manufacture of products to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Colin Beach, a 2022 biochemistry graduate who spent last summer in research and development at Eskenazi Health, and recent electrical engineering grad Luke Spannan, who helped develop a prototype circuit board. circuit board as a BraunAbility trainee.

“The internship was a great networking opportunity as well as being my first meaningful work experience,” said Beach, who reviewed Eskenazi Health’s medical informatics history, surveyed current research on the optimization of health information technology and developed an informative management plan for the future of the hospital. reference.

Beach also attended team meetings with doctors, administrators, and staff, watched lectures, and followed work at two clinics. This helped determine his graduate career in medical research, which will begin this fall at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

“The internship was an eye-opening experience as I had such a great opportunity to work in a hospital setting as an undergraduate student and have the opportunity to work with doctors and other staff . It really helped influence my future decision to go into medical research,” he said.

Eaton is working with Fehribach Center officials to coordinate the internship program. The first interviews with students take place during the academic winter term. She also works with students throughout each academic year to explore other internship and research opportunities.

Neise says, “It’s good that we have someone watching over us. (Eaton) always informs us of possible internships and programs that might be helpful. I appreciate these efforts. Having an internship after my second year is a great opportunity to see where I am in my career development.

Ryan H. Bowman