Vault-Firsthand, the premier career-building website that releases a list of the most prestigious and best companies for internships each year, listed Idaho National Laboratory among the nation’s top internship opportunities. The website surveyed more than 11,400 current and former interns in the summer of 2022 to compile its 2023 Firsthand Internships Rankings.
The updated internship rankings were released Oct. 26, with INL listed as the third best engineering internship opportunity and the 14th best internship experience in energy and renewables. This is the second year the laboratory has earned a spot in the rankings. INL was also the only national laboratory to make the list.
In fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, INL hosted 511 interns from 150 colleges and universities around the country, representing an 8.5% increase from FY-21.
During FY-22, INL had more than 60% of its interns fully on-site, 28% working fully remote, and 12% working a hybrid schedule. The students were able to work closely with their mentors and discover possibilities for future career opportunities at INL.
Some of the respondents’ comments on the survey included:
- “Very good work-life balance, and everyone clearly cares about having a fun life outside of work in addition to being motivated on the job.”
- “I feel that my team, and as a reflection (of) INL as a whole, has fantastic culture and work-life balance.”
- “Great work environment, access to experts across multiple fields, collaborative environment.”
- “The best aspect was the ability to work on a wide variety of projects.”
INL’s internship program helps the lab add new perspectives and ideas while students participate in meaningful assignments and have hands-on experience alongside their mentors. A successful internship develops those who can be potential employees, supports diversity and increases productivity.
“Our purpose remains constant: to expand the lab’s resources and widen its impact,” said Michelle Thiel Bingham, INL National University Programs director. “Bringing in talented interns and giving them the opportunity to work with caring mentors that provide meaningful work experience matters.”
Since 2014, 15% of former interns became INL employees, and 70.9% of postdocs who finished their assignments joined the lab. At the end of FY-22, former INL/National University Program participants accounted for 8.7% of full-time staff and 13% of staff in mission directorates.
INL Intern Highlights
It is important to highlight the role mentors play in the success of INL’s internship program. Our exceptional mentors are dedicated and actively involved with their students. “The importance of my mentor during my internship was huge as he did not only make an impact in my career but strengthened my knowledge in the field,” explained Salvador Munoz, INL intern. “He cared for my success and without a mentor like him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Munoz said.
Here are some examples of how INL mentors positively impacted interns’ experiences and work products:
Hailey Coffman and Cassia Fontes
Mentor: Seth Kanter
Kanter said Coffman, an undergraduate at Idaho State University majoring in health physics, participated in an internship at the Advanced Test Reactor. She was the primary driver behind updating a facility radiological characterization used for numerous technical requirements. Coffman also worked on implementing new sodium iodine radiation detectors used to assist plant operators and chemists with critical monitoring of reactor and plant performance.
“Hailey performed several other analytical support projects, and the depth of her knowledge, thoroughness, attention to detail and analytical perceptiveness led to significant contributions during her tenure,” Kanter said.
Fontes will graduate in May with a master’s degree in radiological sciences and protection from University of Massachusetts Lowell. She worked with a team of radiological engineers at the INL Advanced Test Reactor facility.
“Cassia’s expert knowledge of health physics, gamma spectroscopy and Excel spreadsheets helped her establish an outstanding technical basis for the new program,” Kanter said.
Both Fontes and Coffman attended this year’s annual Health Physics Society meeting in Spokane, Washington. While there, Fontes and her UMass-Lowell team were recognized by the Academic, Industrial and Research Radiation Safety Section with the Outstanding Radiation Safety Program Award.
Matthew Kinsky and Payton Taylor
Mentor: Krista Harris
Kinsky is an undergraduate in Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University, and Taylor is pursuing his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Brigham Yong University. Both interns supported Safeguards and Security to accomplish activities ahead of the projected schedule.
“They had outstanding work ethics and helped develop a process to collect, catalog and report data with creative ideas and solutions that expedited the project completion and ensured INL’s compliance with the DOE requirements,” Harris said.
Mentor: Logan Browning
Otis, a junior at Brigham Young University-Idaho, is majoring in computer science.
“She has been an intern with the Digital Engineering department since June 2022 and has been working on mixed reality development for K-12 STEM outreach and large-scale energy systems,” Browning said. Otis helped the K-12 team develop various outreach virtual mini-lessons in the mixed reality headset, including the interactive periodic table that allows people to explore elements and create their own. She also developed two interactive demonstrations highlighting INL’s mission that have been showcased at DEFCON (a cybersecurity conference) and the Global Clean Energy Action Forum (a net-zero conference). Otis was a runner-up in the INL Intern Poster Session held in August.
Mentor: Zilong Hua
Merighe is a mechanical and aerospace engineering undergraduate student from Utah State University who came to INL under the Department of Energy Office of Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program. He helped his mentor collect and analyze experimental data using scanning electron microscopy and photothermal radiometry.
“His work has significant contribution to my project and to a journal paper that we are working on and hopefully is going to be submitted soon,” Hua said. “I have included his name in my recent conference presentation at Materials Science & Technology 2022.”
Mentor: Joshua Peterson-Droogh
Munoz is a student at Idaho State University majoring in nuclear engineering. He created a database of irradiation experiments, which he then coupled to Python – a general-purpose programming language – and a web-based interactive computing platform for advanced visualization. For another project, Munoz worked on a scoping tool for estimating important parameters for neutronic experiment analysis. He had to learn two new computer codes, MCNP and MC21, to get the scoping study to provide the needed data. Currently, Munoz is working on software quality assurance by testing a newly developed Python code used to streamline fuel construction for an ATR MCNP model. He is comparing the results from Monte Carlo Constructor of ATR Fuel Elements (MCCAFE) to an older approach to sort out discrepancies.
“Salvador is one of the hardest working interns I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Peterson-Droogh said. “Despite his work with the ranch and the school workload, his desire to become a nuclear engineer is striking and he dedicated 40 hours under my supervision.”
Mentor: Jorgen Rufner
Doran is a senior nuclear engineering student at Oregon State University working in the Materials for Extreme Environments and Nuclear Applications lab.
During his INL internship, he supported various activities across numerous projects, which increased his knowledge and skills in scientific areas outside his previous experiences.
“Spencer was highly recommended as extremely bright, capable and self-driven,” Rufner said.
Spencer helped Rufner on powder processing and sintering projects across the lab. “Overall, he managed multiple projects scopes very well for such a younger researcher,” Rufner said.
INL Intern Program
National University Programs received more than 2,000 internship applications from across the U.S. Of the 511 interns selected during last fiscal year, 68 were from 23 different countries. INL has been providing a rich environment for these postsecondary students with the scientific expertise of our mentors and exceptional opportunities in the lab’s facilities with unique technology. The lab continuously works to attract bright and inquisitive interns as part of the Department of Energy mission to build the future talent pipeline. These efforts have been recognized again by former and current interns who participated in the Vault-Firsthand internships ranking survey.
To learn more about INL internships, click here.