New program pairs engineering students with APL mentors for internships

The free pizza, soda, and cookies sure didn't hurt. But what really drew a crowd to Mason Hall's auditorium on Thursday evening was the chance to learn about a new program that gives students the opportunity to work on Applied Physics Laboratory projects ranging from anti-ballistic missile systems to robots, from computer vision to secure mobile communications.

The new APL/School of Engineering Summer Program in Undergraduate Research—SPUR, for short—will pair a select group of handpicked, qualified undergraduate engineering students with mentors at APL for summer internships.

"As soon as I heard about the program and this event, I knew it was something I wanted to come out for so I could ask questions and figure out what I needed to do to apply," said Rachel Hageman, 19, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Iowa City who attended the SPUR launch event

Hegeman particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to hear from and speak one-on-one with nine of the APL project mentors about their research. The projects include simulating injuries suffered by soldiers in vehicles blasted by improvised explosive devices and improving the ability of APL's state-of-the-art prosthetic arm to grasp objects.

"APL is a unique national asset dedicated to solving critical problems," said Ed Schlesinger, Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, who addressed the crowd of gathered students. "It's one of the premiere engineering research organizations in the world, and the engineering science there is done at an incredible level, unique in the world. So having the opportunity to take on internships at this place and with these people is very special."

Thomas Swift, 20, a junior materials science and economics double major from San Jose, Calif., agreed.

"It sounds like a really great opportunity and one that I am extremely interested in," said Swift, who worked during the past two summers in the lab of Howard Katz, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "I loved doing research, but in some ways I have felt I am missing out somewhat on the tangible aspects of working on products that may actually be taken to market. In an internship like this, I would feel much more connected to the final product."

Schlesinger encouraged the students, who he called "an incredibly talented group," to take advantage of the program and all it offers.

"This is a remarkable opportunity for you, as undergraduates, to be mentored by our nation's leading research engineers and scientists and contribute to solving critical problems of national security, space and technology," he said.

SPUR is administered jointly by the APL and the School of Engineering and is supported through the generosity of Trustee Heather Murren, A&S '88, and her husband, Jim Murren.

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