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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Internship at HARC: Insights for Careers in Research

Stepping Stone For Talent

HARC Interns experience the science and business of research

Written by Dr. Erin Kinney, Research Scientist, Coastal Ecology

Left to right: Hudson Nash, Bea Portela, Amy Le, Mia Vassilakis

This summer HARC was fortunate to host four talented local high school student interns interested in learning about the science and business of research. Amy Le, Beatrice Portela, Hudson Nash, and Mia Vassilakis joined the researchers and staff for a glimpse of what a career in the sciences might be like. These rising-seniors worked on projects involving energy, air quality, water quality, and non-profit community outreach and communications.

Amy reports for work one morning to see a group of people gathered on the other side of the lobby, gazing out at the campus landscape designed to preserve and emulate native habitat. “The most surprising thing would be getting there at eight in the morning and seeing a group of people looking out the window at…a turtle” says Amy. Such is a day in the life of HARC’s inaugural class of summer interns.

After checking out the turtle, Amy climbs the stairs to her quiet office to begin today’s writing challenge: condense an eight-page project description on blockchain in Mexico’s energy market down to two pages. With guidance from her mentor, Clean Energy Program Director, Dr. Gavin Dillingham, Amy sets to work, learning the lingo, structure, and function of energy markets while helping to craft a project proposal. Amy’s advice for any student considering an internship at HARC, “this is a fun and exciting place to work… take the chance and talk to everyone there.”

For Mia, talking to everyone was part of the job. “My favorite part was getting to know the researchers by asking about their ideas for outreach.” Mia developed a database of events and exhibitions for possible outreach efforts next year, along with researching sustainable alternatives for promotional items. In addition to her interactions with researchers and engineers, Mia also spent some time with HARC’s business staff learning about contracts, accounting and other functions essential to support a non-profit research organization. Working alongside Business Affairs Director, Bob Travis, she got a firsthand look at the project budget development process. “My advice would be to take advantage of the opportunity to talk with HARC employees who work in the same field as your major of choice.”

Bea ventured out to Clear Lake with Coastal Ecology Research Scientist, Dr. Erin Kinney. On this trip she experiences HARC collaboration with Galveston Bay Estuary Program partners, on projects such as “State of the Bay”. During her time at HARC Bea also realized that research is not always about exciting field work. Much goes into development and funding of projects before the research work can even begin. “For me this was an important insight on the not-so-glamorous side of science, something I will definitely keep in mind.” In other work, Bea analyzed the concept of removing dams and the impact of water usage and climate change in arid regions. On sitting behind a computer looking at data versus field research, “This was an insight into what the world of being a researcher actually is. One of my favorite parts of the internship was being able to talk to researchers about their experiences working in environmental science and how they got to where they are today. I learned that my path will twist and turn a million times, and the most valuable thing I can do is to be open to that and soak up every experience.”

Hudson came to HARC with impressive research skills which he applied during his internship. Taking to the streets in the name of research, Hudson found himself riding along with Research Associate Dr. Asanga Wijesinghe, in HARC’s air quality mobile lab, and used his programming skills to assemble a data visualization program for air quality monitoring. Hudson also spent time working with the water quality team, producing analytical tools for historical groundwater quality data in Houston. Additionally, he created an interactive impact timeline/storyline that compiles several historical artifacts of the Galveston Bay area to explain anomalies in water quality data reported since the mid-twentieth century. “The scale of the projects carried out by HARC surprised me. Mostly, I was surprised at the potential of my work to impact activities within and beyond the organization.” In a statement that reflects the thoughtful nature of this young man, Hudson comments “My plans didn’t change during my internship. Instead, I feel my future aspirations have been refined and my plans brought into focus by the experience and wisdom I gained as an intern at HARC…. “Most importantly – have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right.” – Hudson Nash

Over 90% of HARC’s staff participated in mentoring or meeting with the interns. Next year, HARC hopes to include college and graduate level interns in addition to our high school participants. This is part of a developing five-year plan to expand the program, offering opportunities for high schools and colleges within commuting distance from The Woodlands. HARC would like to thank the Education for Tomorrow Alliance internship program for their support of Amy Le and Beatrice Portela. If you know of a student that may be interested in a future internship at HARC or you or your company would like to learn more about underwriting opportunities, please email us at