Internship leads to career connections
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While many college students utilize the summer doing internships that require more professional attire than they would like, St. Andrews Student Government Association President Alexis Cowger spent her second consecutive summer working in the lab as an analytical chemist.
“You don’t have to dress up for chemistry,” she said in a presentation to general chemistry students. “A polo shirt and khakis is dressed up for a chemist and you only had to wear it when giving a presentation.”
Cowger’s project for the summer included working with colormetric testing, image detection and analytical work.
“I did the internship with NAVEODTECHDIV,” she said. “It stands for Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, but in the military everything is abbreviations. I worked with the EDE or Explosive Detection Equipment group. We work to determine which machines work best to detect explosives."
Cowger primarily worked with three machines to analyze different solutions for the chemical fingerprints of various explosive components. The information was run on gas chromatographs.
“The chromatographs of the chemical compositions show signature spikes,” she shared before walking the students through a few sample chromatographs. “It looks really easy but it took me all summer to get the system to run correctly. It may look confusing but if you like chemistry it is interesting."
In addition to her lab work, Cowger also had the opportunity to travel to Huntsville, Ala., to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
“I went down first as a student to take the Home Made Explosives, or HME, course,” Cowger said. “I learned how to make and identify all kinds of home made explosives. I was asked back as instructor. I was known as the reach back chemist. I would stand outside the setup and the participants in the exercise would radio to me what they were seeing. I would help them to connect the items to figure out the chain of production."
Her work at both the lab and ATF has opened career opportunities for Cowger. She is guaranteed a job as an analytical chemist with NAVEODTECHDIV for two years after graduation. Additionally, the networking she did while at the ATF has potential job offers already being made.
"I highly recommend getting an internship,” she said. “I know that professors will stand up and tell you to do it, but I am telling you from first hand experience how valuable an internship is. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, it really does help you to experiment and see if the job is going to work for you.”