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Community College Students Experience STEM University Program at Caltech

A group of community college students is gathered around a refrigerator-sized machine, trying on metal rings and passing around finely detailed metal figurines that were created a few micrometers at a time, as the machine pointed a laser onto a powdery material.  The million-dollar 3D printer is the clear fan favorite on this lab tour at Caltech’s storied campus.

The students, who are enrolled in various science and engineering programs at their community colleges, have been visiting Caltech once a month since the fall of 2016 through Base 11’s Academic Year Internship program.  They’ve toured the hypervelocity shock tunnel, a wind tunnel, a laser lab, and seen a micro-printer in action. Graduate students have given talks on topics like heat transfer and the laws of thermodynamics.

Gabriella Dean, who attends Santa Monica College, applied to the internship to get a better understanding of the different aspects of engineering,  “If you want to specialize, you can come to this program and get introduced to different specializations,” she said. “This experience gave me the bigger picture.”

Base 11’s internship program solidified her interest in engineering, and she has now applied to transfer to mechanical engineering programs at schools across the country.

Alfonso Mares from Pasadena College has always been interested in airplanes, and applied to this program to gain exposure to aerospace, the field he wants to eventually work in, and one of the areas for which Caltech is best known..

“I’m glad I’m here because I get to see some areas the graduate students are studying,” he said. “It seems that grad school is very interesting and enriching. This experience has made it more realistic for me to go to grad school.”

Not all of the students in the internship plan to follow the same path.  “This program is a good way to learn what you do and do not like in STEM in general,” said Edward Diep, an international student who hopes to someday open a STEM business. As he finishes the internship, Edward realizes he is more interested in the application of science and technology than extensive research.  “Doing this program has been an exploration for me. I’m getting things that I can apply to any discipline.”

And that’s one of the fundamental goals of the Base 11 internship — to better prepare students with STEM skills to succeed in college and the workforce, not only for jobs that are in demand today, but those that have yet to be created.

“We really want to train you to learn,” says Caltech aerospace graduate student David Huynh, who has mentored Base 11 students for a couple of years through this academic-year program, as well as through Base 11’s summer fellowship program.

After the tour of the machine shop, the students meet to work on their final projects. David introduces an idea to the group: honey falling from a spoon in a predictable but beautiful swirling pattern. This seemingly simple effect, known as liquid rope coiling, is such a treasure trove of physics and mathematical concepts that it continues to be studied by scientists to this day.

STEM interns work on a project at Caltech

What real-life idea might they explore for their final projects? David wants the teams to explore something that’s “a balance between what’s tractable and cool.” The teams discuss ice cream melting, a chain falling off a flat surface, and water spraying in a circle as graduate mentors listen and occasionally offer advice.

This year-long internship opportunity has built relationships that will last even longer. “When I have questions, career-wise or school-wise, I can always just email them,” says Alfonso. “This has been a great way to network and meet friends and mentors.”

 

Apply now for Base 11’s Academic Year Internship program at Caltech, University of Southern California, and University of California, Irvine by visiting: www.base11.com/academic-year-round-internship-mentorship.

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