Sophomore Sharon Smith, a civil engineering major, is the first Walters State Community College student to earn an Oak Ridge National Laboratory internship since the two institutions announced a unique partnership last year.
Smith spent her summer entering data related to a study on the effects of weather patterns on biomass crop productivity. Her work was part of a larger project that compared the economics of growing crops for use in energy creation against that of traditional crops in various regions of the country.
“This summer was full of new knowledge. I spent 10 weeks working on a project that will impact the energy efficiency of the nation,” Smith said.
“I met and worked with so many adventurous and intellectual people. So many projects are going on at ORNL and I met so many people who are really motivated to make the world a better place,” she said.
Smith was an ideal candidate, according to her professor and research mentor, Dr. Eugene de Silva, associate professor of physics at Walters State.
“We at Walters State are very proud that one of our students was able to complete an internship within the first year of our agreement with ORNL. Sharon is a great student and I knew she would do a good job. She is very intellectual, very curious and very motivated,” de Silva said.
For Smith, the internship is a dream start to a resume and one she likely would have not been considered for until her junior or senior at a larger college.
“This partnership with Walters State gives students the unique chance to have an internship at one of the world’s most prestigious laboratory while a freshman or a sophomore,” de Silvia said.
Internships are just a part of the partnership. The agreement calls for student visits to laboratories and eventual collaborative research. By involving students as freshman and sophomores, ORNL hopes to attract more to science, technology, and engineering fields. ORNL will also advise Walters State on the future needs of employers based on technology being developed.
“This is a win-win situation for all of us,” said Dr. Ian Anderson, director of graduate and university partnerships for ORNL. Anderson previously served as director of neutron science at the lab and played a key role in the development of ORNL’s Spallation Neutron source (SNS), the only research facility of its kind.
Walters State faculty working with Anderson to establish the collaboration included Dr. Lori Campbell, vice president for academic affairs; Dr. Jeff Horner, dean of natural science and de Silva.
“This partnership will provide amazing opportunities in both learning and networking with some of the country’s brightest scientists. Walters State is fortunate to have ORNL both geographically accessible and welcoming to our students. Sharon is just the first of many who will benefit from this partnership,” said Dr. Lori Campbell, vice president of academic affairs.
“We already have two or three candidates getting ready for the internship application process,” she added.