News Column

Mayo Clinic Internships Offer Job Experience

August 18, 2014

Rachel Cohrs, Post-Bulletin

Mayo Clinic's internship program offers on-the-job experience (file photo)
Mayo Clinic's internship program offers on-the-job experience (file photo)

Aug. 16--During this summer, college students from around the world trade in lectures, homework and laboratories for suits. desks and plastic gloves.

Company internship programs provide opportunities for interns and employers to see if they are good matches, said Connie Penz, supervisor of the Cellular Kinetics and Metabolics labs where Bolks works. At Mayo Clinic, they prepare interns for what Mayo jobs would be like, and gives Mayo an opportunity to see if they would be good employees.

"Really, it's a three-month interview. They all have been phenomenal, and I haven't come across an intern I wouldn't hire," Penz said.

This summer, Mayo Clinic hired about 150 college interns in a wide range of areas, from construction management to nursing. Many other area businesses also hired interns, from IBM to the Post-Bulletin.

One Mayo intern is Josh Bolks, who worked as a clinical lab assistant in the Department of Lab Medicine and Pathology in the Cellular Kinetics division of Hematopathology.

Bolks, who wants a career in science, biology and anatomy in the health care field, is pursuing a pre-med major in cellular and molecular biology at Winona State University. He decided to apply for a summer position at Mayo to get more experience in a research setting.

Bolks can be found outfitted in a suit, lab coat, gloves and protective eyewear preparing vials of patient fluid for analysis and testing. He helps separate white blood cells from the entire sample so the technicians and doctors can perform tests for blood cancers.

Bolks admitted that the transition from college student to professional didn't come easy.

"It's a big change from doing (lab work) for the school and educational purposes to directly impacting and helping patients, helping people; and getting up and putting on a suit and tie every morning and coming to this professional establishment. It was a huge change, but a good one for me," Bolks said.

He also had the opportunity, through different contacts, to talk to a Mayo heart surgeon to explore his interest in that as a possible career. "Not many people get to scrub in to open heart surgeries and hold people's beating hearts," Bolks said.

Recently, he conducted an open interview for a two-year research job after graduation. If he gets the position, he plans on taking two gap years before pursuing medical school.

"I never want to be anywhere else; I want to spend the rest of my life here, so it was incredible to get my foot in the door because it's so hard to get in," Bolks said.

Prepare for opportunities

Penz knows full well that having interns can pay off in long-term employment since she herself was an intern 20 years ago at the very lab she now supervises. She remembers learning about what people did in labs, what kind of research was conducted, and what everyday life would be like.

"It's a great opportunity for all involved, and you could even end up taking a path you weren't expecting," Penz said.

Penz also pointed out that another big benefit of having interns in her department is they help her plan out her staff's vacation schedule.

"Once the interns get officially approved, I can approve more vacation time for the regular staff," she said.

Interns from overseas

Oluyomi Gbadegesin and Gideon Aina, both from Nigeria, are in Rochester this summer for IBM's LEADing to Africa program. The program trains people here, preparing them to work in information technology.

Gbadegesin is a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas, studying information technology. He decided to specialize in IBM's cloud computing initiative for more concentrated career training.

"I decided it was the right time to further my education and get some work experience. Coming to the United States was the best opportunity for me to advance my career," Gbadegesin said.

Aina studies in a master's program for business informatics at Northern Kentucky University, and is focusing on analytics and software development in his time at IBM.

Although they are staying for a relatively small amount of time, they are working on big projects.

"When I came in I thought I was just going to be learning, and then my manager was like, 'No. You have a contribution to make to this business and what you are working on is very important.' I realized I would have to put in my best effort. Someone is depending on me," Aina said.

Aina is working on developing test cases to improve software for intelligence policing, a strategy in which police departments try to predict crime. The more the software is tested, the better it will function in day-to-day use.

"The project I'm working on hasn't really been done before, and even with people who have done it before, there are limitations to what they know," Aina said.

Gbadegesin is testing cloud solutions so small businesses can run applications on IBM platforms without having an on-site data center. He chose this focus because of its vital importance to small business owners in Africa, who struggle with obstacles like power outages on a regular basis.

Differences in work

As would be expected, there are distinct differences in the work environments between Nigeria and the United States. "When I first started work, I usually moved around, but this was the first time I had to be in an office setting, and sit down and study and research and execute the program all at my desk," Aina said.

He also was surprised when his manager met his request to work from home with resistance. "She said, 'You know what? I want you to use your weekend for rest, not for work.' In Africa it's not like that because you work as much as possible. It sent a big message about work-life balance," Aina said.

The goal of the internships is to train employees to go back and work for IBM in Africa, although a job isn't guaranteed upon graduation.

Gbadegesin is planning to return to Nigeria after graduating this spring.

"I feel that there are more opportunities back home than there are here. Nigeria is going through a lot of growth processes right now. I need to go back to Africa because it is important for me to be part of that process and contribute one way or another," Gbadegesin said.

Aina also plans to go back home more prepared than before with the IBM internship in addition to his schooling. "Sometimes when you're in class, you're taught a lot of things without putting them together. When I came (to IBM), I saw how they fit together as tools," Aina said.

Regardless of where they end up in the future, they both agreed that Rochester is a great place to work. "It's nice, neat, and clean. People here seem to be very nice," Aina said.


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Original headline: Interns learn on the job

Source: (c)2014 the Post-Bulletin

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