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Unique Internship Program Opening Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

Finding valuable summer internship experiences in science, engineering and computing career fields can be difficult for students during their first two years of college.

The challenges are even more compounded for students with disabilities. However, they aren’t stopping four Rose-Hulman students from getting paid opportunities this summer with Eli Lilly & Company, Cummins Inc., Eskenazi Health, and BraunAbility through internships provided by the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis.

This is the third consecutive summer that students are learning skills, expanding professional networks and building resumes that can help them earn greater self-confidence, economic independence, and future employment possibilities.

Fehribach Center Director Larry Merkel says, “Rose-Hulman students have an engineering and science skillsets that are in demand by Indiana employers. Once we identify interested students, there’s usually a wealth of internships available for them.”

Merkel points to a U.S. Bureau of Labor report highlighting that 25.7% of 2021 college graduates with disabilities found employment, compared to 72.1% of college graduates without disabilities.

Internships are important in improving employment opportunities for students with disabilities, according to Patty Eaton, PhD, Rose-Hulman’s director of student accessibility services. She says, “These students just need a chance to showcase their extraordinary skills and apply the lessons they’re learning at Rose in real-world work or research environments. This internship program has been a win-win situation for the students and employers.”

Nine Rose-Hulman students have participated in the program since the summer of 2020 and recent graduates have used the experiences to earn full-time jobs and acceptance to doctorate degree programs – realizing their career aspirations.

Biomedical engineering student Ashley Parker, who has hearing loss, is learning about medical devices this summer with Eskenazi Health after spending last summer with Eli Lilly & Company’s Pain and Migraine team. She worked on several projects pertaining to clinical trials for the pharmaceutical company’s headache medication now in development.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to explore further opportunities in biomedical engineering, especially in medical device development. That’s an area of my career interest presently. Being able to work in this area at one of the leading hospitals in Indianapolis is a great opportunity,” Parker says.

Meanwhile, computer science major Elijah Watson is learning about how Lilly manages data systems. Electrical engineering student Gabe Neise is getting his first work experience in electronic circuits with Cummins in Columbus, Indiana. And engineering design major Alec O’Connor is serving as an intern with BraunAbility, a company in Winamac, Indiana, that equips vans with the technology necessary to be converted to wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“This internship (with BraunAbility) is ideal with my interest in designing products and being able to relate to the challenges that wheelchair-assisted people encounter,” said O’Connor, who has physical limitations. “It will be interesting to see what all goes into development of products for people like myself who need assistance.”

Watson adds that this summer’s Lilly internship could help shape the scope of his possible career in computer science, while Neise, who has hearing limitations, says working at Cummins will provide valuable experience in how aspects of electrical engineering are applied in manufacturing. Both students recently completed their second year in their Rose-Hulman academic programs.

“At this point I’ve found my (computer science) classes interesting. This summer will be an important step in seeing how my computing skills can be applied in industry. It should help define the future course of my studies and future work possibilities,” said Watson, who has a hearing disability.

Emily Malueg, a 2021 mechanical engineering graduate, recently earned the Fehribach Center’s inaugural Dustin Gilmer Award for Excellence after working as a biomedical engineering intern with Eskenazi Health in 2020 and 2021. Her work in preventive maintenance and repairing the hospital’s medical equipment helped her gain a postgraduate job as a continuous improvement engineer with BraunAbility, a Fehribach Center partner. She is working as a bridge between design and manufacturing of products to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Other past Rose-Hulman students benefiting from the Fehribach Center internship program were Colin Beach, a 2022 biochemistry graduate who spent last summer with Eskenazi Health’s research and development area, and recent electrical engineering alumnus Luke Spannan, who helped develop a prototype printed circuit board as a BraunAbility intern.

“The internship was a great networking opportunity while also being my first significant work experience,” said Beach, who reviewed Eskenazi Health’s history of medical informatics, investigated current research on optimizing of health information technology, and developed an informative management plan for the hospital’s future reference.

Beach also attended team meetings with physicians, administrators and staff members, watched lectures and job shadowed in two clinics. This helped determine his postgraduate career in medical research, which will begin this fall at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

“The internship was an eye-opening experience, getting such a great opportunity to be working in a hospital setting as an undergraduate student and having the opportunity to work with physicians and other staff. It really helped influence my future decision about going into medical research,” he said.

Eaton works with Fehribach Center officials to coordinate the internship program. Initial student interviews are conducted during the winter academic quarter. She also works with students throughout each school year to explore other internship and research opportunities.

Neise says, “It is nice that we have someone looking out for us. (Eaton) is always notifying us about possible internships and programs that could be useful. I appreciate those efforts. Having an internship after my second year is a great chance to see where I’m at in my career development.”

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