ECSU Honors Program students use summer internships to their advantage

Kesha Williams
July 12, 2011

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Dr. Velma B. Blackmon is keeping the line of communication open this summer for students involved in Elizabeth City State University's Honors Program. Many have traveled across the country and the globe for internships that Blackmon said will provide exceptional lessons to supplement those learned in the classroom.

"These experiences that will enable them to transmit classroom learning into actual practice," said Blackmon, who is director of the Honors Program. "While some have done internships locally, we have encouraged them to get out of their comfort zone and seek ones that will give them not only practical training, but survival skills by living in a place with which they might not be familiar," she said.

"The learning and growth that come with an internship serve as valuable barometers of future success for the student," Blackmon continued. "It allows for connections to be made between the classroom and the work place experience. And it allows for the connections to be made for future professional relationships."

Take a look at the assignments for students currently in the ECSU Honors Program:

Quachel Bazile, Jasmine Dover and Lia Scott, all chemistry majors; Semaj Wallace, psychology major; Paris Williams, biology major; conducting research in South Africa with Dr. Ephraim T. Gwebu, chairman of ECSU's Department of Chemistry, Geology and Physics.

Valerie Edwards, aviation/communications major, and Kristina Jiles, chemistry major, participating in the McNair Scholars Summer Research Institute at ECSU.

Cedric Hall, a mathematics/aviation major, conducting research at the University of New Hampshire.

George Harris, a technology major, interning at ExxonMobile in Denver.

Shaun Harrell, business major, working with the U.S. Coast Guard in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Ryan Lawrence, chemistry major, traveled to Seattle to gather research data.

Shalisa Spence, English major, interning at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

Tyler Thompson, biology major, studying at Ohio State University.

Ryan Lawrence, a junior from Scotland Neck, N.C., has been in the Honors Program since 2009. When he received an invitation to participate while he was in high school, he thought he could benefit from the extra challenges the program offers students.

"Our classes are smaller and we have tough assignments," he said. "Writing a thesis while in undergraduate school was a good idea because I knew I would have to do it when I pursue a master's degree and Ph.D."

In addition to taking honors classes, students in the program are required to attend performing arts events and to write five book reports every semester. They also attend national collegiate honor organization conferences and conferences related to their academic majors.

Lawrence said the rigorous program has kept him busy. "I managed to win an award for outstanding work in my major (chemistry)," he said. "I accepted the award this year at the Honors Program Convocation, where other Honors Program students also won awards in their majors."

Lawrence's hard work has paid off and led him this summer to the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington for a week of research. He worked with two research mentors - Dr. Ian Joughin and Brooke Medley -- who are involved extensively in a topic related to his area of research. They are using radar from the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) to study snowfall accumulations in west Antarctica will determine the impact of climate change. In Seattle, Lawrence met with professors to download data from the CReSIS website and converted information into files that can be analyzed for future reference.

"My interest in climate change led me to the current project," Lawrence said. "I had done previous research done in my sophomore year with Dr. Linda Hayden," director of ECSU's Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research.

Research projects taught him how to prioritize his time and how to put academics first. "Networking at conferences is essential," Lawrence said. "But you must have the correct grade point average and knowledge to utilize opportunities for internships and, later, good jobs."

George Harris was attending a regional conference of the National Society of Black Engineers in 2009 when he learned about a host of internship opportunities. He submitted resumes and wound up with four valuable internships. Currently, he is interning with ExxonMobile. It is his second internship with the energy company.

His job as a drilling rig supervisor intern is to provide daily, on-site leadership and supervision of all drilling operations. He is learning how to be responsible for the safe and efficient execution of drilling operations. The actual supervisor is responsible for clear and concise reporting of all well site drilling activities, including daily drilling reports, material transfers and safety meetings. Harris said the experience has been great.

"Being able to have the internship experience at least once during your college years is very important," he said. "Given the times we live in and the unemployment rate, it is essential to get that upper hand when looking for a job. An internship gets your foot in the door, and can ultimately turn into a summer-long interview. In addition to that, you obtain real world experience that will prove vital to your matriculation throughout school and life in general," he said.

Harris credits the honors program with opening many doors of opportunity within the university and elsewhere. "We take classes that challenge us. We've taken many trips around the United States and have been afforded opportunities to network with peers and professionals. I've built relationships with many of our generations' future leaders and look to hopefully become one," he said.

The Honors Program experiences will help students meet and exceed the goals they set as freshmen. "Of this we are certain," Blackmon said, "that they will show that they are capable and confident as they pursue their future goals -- no matter how far they travel from home."