Future Energy Stars

Internships prepare students for jobs

By Elizabeth A. Davis

On graduation day, Lauren Johnson didn’t have to worry about finding a job. She already had one. In the middle of an internship at Eastman Chemical she had during her senior year, the company offered the UT Knoxville engineering major a permanent position.

Tennessee, with help from the University of Tennessee, has made strides in increasing the number of graduates like Johnson in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math or STEM. Now, as the state and university have emerged as leaders in renewable energy, there is a greater need for energy research and opportunities for students to prepare for careers in that growing industry.

Enter TN-SCORE, the abbreviated version of Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education. In 2010, a consortium of public and private universities in the state, led by UT, won a five-year $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program. The consortium’s winning proposal was TN-SCORE, which has the overall goal to increase research capacity and improve Tennessee’s competitiveness.

Johnson (Knoxville ’11) earned her internship at Eastman through TN-SCORE. Eastman, TVA and Hemlock Semiconductor have hosted internships through the program, and another energy company, Proton Power, will offer an internship this summer.

“Without a doubt I was offered a job here because of my TN-SCORE internship. I don’t know if I would have been able to secure a job at Eastman without prior experience here,” Johnson says.

Johnson interned at Eastman in Kingsport from May 2011 to December 2011, and she worked on life cycle assessments of specialty plastics, evaluating the environmental footprint over the entire lifetime of the product. She graduated summa cum laude in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering and a second major in chemistry. Now, she is a chemical engineer in the Process Evaluation and Engineering Research Group.

“I used so much of what I learned in school just in the short time I interned with Eastman. The job assignment allowed me an opportunity that isn’t necessarily present in coursework—combining concepts from multiple courses and disciplines into one project,” she says.

“The internships provide the students a real-world example of how the companies operate.
The companies are involved to have the first opportunities at Tennessee’s best students.”
There are between six to nine internship positions available a year through TN-SCORE, says Josh Francois, the program’s outreach director.

“The overriding purpose is to maintain and strengthen the STEM workforce development pipeline in the state,” he says. “On a more individual level, the internships provide the students a real-world example of how the companies operate and help students develop those skills necessary to succeed in a chosen industry. The companies are involved to maintain their workforce and have the first opportunities at Tennessee’s best students.”

Brandy Behrens, an engineering major at UT Martin, interned at Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville last summer and was involved in starting up electrical systems in buildings.

“This internship has greatly benefited my education. I came into it not really sure if I had made the right decision when choosing my major. By the time I had to leave, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “It has made studying for the tough tests and long nights of homework worth it.”

Behrens, who is from Dyersburg, plans to graduate in December 2014.

Morgan Strozak (Chattanooga ’12) was not a STEM major, but she interned at TVA while a student at UTC, coordinating the 2011 and 2012 Tennessee Valley Solar Solutions conferences, among other tasks. Strozak, the first college graduate in her family, majored in marketing and began working at Chattanooga-based Covenant Transportation last June in fleet management and load planning.

“My internship at TVA gave me real-world business experience,” she says. “And I’ve learned that kind of experience is priceless to a company looking to hire a recent graduate.”

For more information about TN-SCORE, visit www.tnepscor.org.