PASADENA, Calif. – 10 June 11
USRP Intern Wins AIP Intern of the Year
By: Heather L. Ogletree
At the University of California San Diego (UCSD), students have the opportunity to take part in the Academic Internship Program (AIP), which guides students through the internship process and awards them with up to 12 units of class credit for the completion of an internship experience, exit evaluation and academic paper. This spring, AIP Counselor Kathy Tonkovich helped Veronica Burnett join the ranks of NASA’s Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP), a program that emphasizes experiential learning, technical report writing and high standards for selectees, and upon completing her term, AIP awarded Burnett with Intern of the Year for Revelle College.
At JPL, Burnett worked with NASA Mentor Suzanne Smrekar for 15 weeks on a project entitled, “Planetary Interiors Convection Modeling.” The UCSD physics major explained, “My work was with developing scaling laws from numerical simulations of mantle convection; previous interns...ran many simulations that require[d] hundreds of hours of processing on a supercomputer.” However, with the help of her mentors, Burnett was able to determine empirical relationships that eliminated the need for simulations, cutting costs and labor for the project. The purpose of the project was to get a better understanding of the thermal evolution of Venus, and to understand the formation of geologic features. “We don’t really have a full understanding of exactly how the convective mantle works with Earth,” said Burnett, “but understanding it for a simpler system like Venus is a step to understanding it for Earth.”
Each semester at the six UCSD campuses, students compete to be named as their college’s intern of the quarter. Upon winning AIP Intern of the Quarter, they are eligible to compete for AIP Intern of the Year. According to Senior Counselor Annie Abbot, “I created the annual awards program three years ago as a way to recognize the amazing student talent we encounter. Veronica was our AIP Intern of the Quarter for Revelle college during Winter 2011.”
Students are chosen based upon their overall performance during the internship, a short essay, internship supervisor feedback, and the quality of their research paper. Burnett excelled in all categories to include internship supervisor feedback. Burnett’s NASA Mentor not only rated her work as 100% equal to that of a NASA new hire, she also ranked her highly in professionalism, teamwork, conceptual ability and learning, theory and practice. Smrekar said, “Veronica did an excellent job with a challenging internship.”
Furthermore, her short essay reflected the many experiences and personal growth that she experienced through her work at NASA JPL. She wrote, “I can honestly say I learned an incredible amount about a subject matter I could not have taken any one course on at UCSD.... I finished my internship very inspired to start graduate school this fall. I was able to learn so much about exactly I was doing professionally that I definitely gained the confidence I needed to feel comfortable talking about it. I feel that I can apply this to what I do, what I learn, and what I know, now and in the future, completely invaluable.”
And so, Burnett was honored with AIP’s Intern of the Year on May 20, 2011, becoming yet another USRP success story and role model for current and future STEM generations.