Student Blog: Sandia National Lab Internship with Devon Goszkowicz
Hi! My name is Devon and I am a senior in Materials Science & Engineering, with a concentration in Metals and a minor in Linguistics. Welcome to the MatSE Blog! First, a little about me: I grew up in Japan and Belgium as the daughter of a Navy fighter pilot and an ER Nurse, but my family currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In my last few years of high school, I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but was unsure of what kind of engineering to study. Prior to my senior year of high school, I went to the the University of Illinois Girls Adventures in Math, Engineering, and Science (GAMES) Camp, where I was in the Girls Learning About Materials (GLAM) section. That camp made me realize that Materials Science & Engineering was what I wanted to study, as well as that I wanted to study it here at the University of Illinois.
Four years later, I’m a first semester senior. During my time as a student, I’ve been involved with many different Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on campus, including Material Advantage and She’s The First, and have worked as a lab assistant for the same GLAM Camp that made me want to study MatSE. For the last two years, I’ve been heavily involved in a startup called MakerGirl, which inspires young girls to become more involved in STEAM through interactive 3D Printing sessions. Most recently, I’ve completed an engineering internship at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sandia is one of the three National Nuclear Security Administration research and development (R&D) laboratories, with a main focus on the development, engineering, and testing of non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons. However, not all the lab's work is nuclear — Sandia also works very heavily in defense systems, renewable energy, and global security.
As a Materials R&D intern, I had two main projects: the first of which was developing ion-selective electrodes for use in geothermal wells. Detecting ion concentrations in geothermal brine directly relates to the mapping of fractures and liquid pathways in these wells, which are important factors for understanding movement of liquid between injection and production wells.
My second project was the development and characterization of aerospace composite materials for high heat flux environments. My goal was to understand the thermal protection system (TPS) chemistry on materials surfaces and interiors in an extreme environment. This involved materials manufacturing, testing, and characterizing the products using XRD, SEM, FTIR, and Raman Spectroscopy.
For me, the best part of my internship was being able to apply the knowledge I had gained in my three years at university to work in two very different aspects of research and development. This internship allowed me to see how classroom material is represented physically, which was very useful for a visual learner me. Additionally, as a female in engineering, I have become very used to being one of very few women in many of my engineering classes. However, women and minorities were very well represented in my department, which was refreshing!
Outside of work hours, and during the week, I explored Albuquerque and all of its wonderful culinary options (I must have eaten my weight in green chile). I also spent a good chunk of my time hiking with my fellow interns. I had a 9/80 work week, which meant that I compressed 80 hours of work into 9 days, so every other week I had a three day weekend. During these weekends, I traveled around the southwest part of the country to Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and throughout New Mexico.
Getting the internship itself was a relatively straightforward process. I had heard from Professor Schleife in the beginning of spring semester that there was going to be an information session for Sandia National Laboratories; as I have always had an interest in the defense industry, I attended. Following the information session, I was offered an interview with two Illinois graduates who currently work for Sandia, and roughly a month later I had a follow-up interview with my future manager. Following a formal offer of an internship, I completed many, many rounds of paperwork, and then I moved to Albuquerque in May!
Despite the straightforward process in getting the internship, there were a few things that I wish I had known beforehand. First, I wish I had realized that I was not expected to know the solution to every project or problem at the beginning of the internship, nor was I expected to be an expert in those areas. The point of an internship is to give the intern experience, and the supervisors understand that undergraduate students don’t know everything. Second, I wish someone had told me to not be afraid to ask questions, but always try to find the answer on the internet or in a book first. That being said, don’t spend hours agonizing over a problem that a quick question to a supervisor could answer. This would have saved me quite a few headaches! Finally, a good piece of advice is to ask to help wherever you can. Sometimes, the lab next door might need help with a project that’s intriguing to you, and you never know what you might learn just by talking to someone new.
My workplace had a large list of places to live for the summer, which included the dorms at the local university (University of New Mexico) as well as multiple well-known apartment companies. However, two other engineering interns and I found an apartment on our own by looking at Yelp reviews and calling various housing companies until we found one that we liked. We were near the base of the Sandia Mountains, so it worked out very well.
Overall, being an intern at Sandia was one of the best experiences of my collegiate career. Not only did I have two extremely interesting projects to work on, I also had the opportunity to explore life in a new city and explore the American Southwest. Furthermore, my projects from this summer have solidified my desire to work in the aerospace industry post-graduation. I hope that reading about my internship experience was valuable for you, and that you take advantage of the excellent career services that Illinois has to offer!