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Sandia National Laboratories FORCEE Intern Institute Focuses on Pathway to Science Careers

Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted 150 undergraduate and graduate students for their Summer 2023 Future Of Research for Climate, Earth and Energy (FORCEE) Intern Institute, which is led by Kyle Jones, a geophysicist and manager at Sandia.

Andréa Darrh, a Sandia geophysicist, started her career as an intern at the laboratory when she was an undergraduate student at Texas A and M.

"This year, our cohort worked with more than 100 principal investigators throughout the lab on projects ranging from climate change to alternate energy sources," Jones said. "We seek out the best and the brightest minds for these positions.”

Jones’ program has been around for several years, and one of his goals is to ensure that minority serving institutions (MSI) are represented in the competitive pool of applicants. He said that the program included 93 MSI students this year.

Another important aspect of the program is to continue to engage with these students past their summer internships. One such example is Andréa Darrh, a Sandia geophysicist who works with geophysical data and tries to better understand what is under the Earth’s surface.

Darrh started her career at Sandia when she was an undergraduate at Texas A&M in 2017.

“After that first summer at Sandia, I learned so much and wanted to continue working at the lab,” Darrh said. “So, I worked as a year-round intern throughout both my undergraduate degree in geophysics at Texas A&M as well as my graduate work at Colorado School of Mines.”

She said that one of the projects she worked on at Sandia during her internship was part of the multi-laboratory CATALOG consortium.

“For the work I did within the CATALOG project, we looked at methods to identify and characterize orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells throughout the United States, which are known emitters of greenhouse gasses such as methane,” Darrh said. “This work is very interdisciplinary and requires working with a number of different scientists, which I had a chance to do throughout my internship at Sandia.”

She said that she first discovered Sandia after doing a research presentation at Texas A&M through a school program.

“I talked with a Sandia representative that was there and never expected my work at the lab to continue for so long; however, there was so much benefit even in that very first year as I was learning how to use various coding languages and software that my studies had not touched on — such as Fortran and LaTeX,” she said. “During my first summer, they showed me so many tools, and I was learning so much that when I was given an opportunity to go year-round: I took it.”

Darrh said that the mentors have been so outstanding that the trajectory of her career changed because of the Sandia internship program.

“They allowed me to broaden my geophysics knowledge and every year I learned something new that helped me become a better scientist,” she said. “I personally think that the internship that I had with Sandia was one of the best choices I ever made for my career and from my experience I never felt like an intern as I was treated as an equal and did work that meant something. I cannot say enough good things about the internship experience that I had. I would highly recommend it for any undergraduate or graduate student looking for an internship where you do things that actually matter.”


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