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Interning During a Global Pandemic

Our intern for the the Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program

For the past 30 years, Vernier Software & Technology participates in the Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program to give students the opportunity to see what it’s like to work at a STEM company. This internship normally takes place in person, but 2020 was not a routine year. This is the story of our resilient intern, the great support she received from her team, and the important work she was able to do from home.

A Gradual Path to STEM

High school student Dara Morakinyo had the unique challenge of completing the first remote Vernier internship. Born in Nigeria and raised in the United States, Dara has a passion for government policy; her interest in STEM came to her gradually. Since both of her parents and sister have an interest in the field, Dara wanted to forge her own way.

“I was rather reluctant to learn about computer science,” Dara said. “My reluctance rose from my desire to be my own person, separate from the STEM direction my parents had taken.” 

Once she started learning coding languages, she was surprised by how much she enjoyed them. A web design class introduced her to HTML and CSS, and from there she dug deeper to discover more programming languages. Her sister’s experience with ASE led Dara to explore the various internship paths, and the coding offerings from Vernier caught her eye.

“I was familiar with Vernier products as I had used them in my science classrooms before,” Dara said. “I was really interested in Vernier specifically because it sounded really rewarding to work on activities that would be used by students, and just being a part of an organization that was centered around education really inspired me.”

An Unusual Year for an Internship

Like so many parts of the country, Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions required that those who could work from home should do so—including interns. 

“There were several conversations about whether we should just cancel the internship this year,” Tom Smith, Educational Technology Specialist for the Engineering team and Dara’s summer mentor, said. “To the best of my knowledge, we have never had an intern working from home.”

Despite the challenges this year brought in its wake, Dara’s strong work ethic and flexibility led to a productive summer. “Dara brought some unique skills to the table that made it possible to have a very successful internship,” Tom said. 

Dara’s primary project was to create tools that a teacher could use in a science or coding class to integrate our sensors with JavaScript. Building off of work started with last summer’s intern, her project started out to create a set of lessons on how to use our sensors with JavaScript. Dara brought her own experience to the internship and realized a set of activities integrating JavaScript, HTML, and CSS with our sensor technology would be a more complete solution.

“These activities helped introduce to me how coding principles can be taught along with the use of sensor technology,” Dara said. “As I progressed through the activities, I witnessed how simple programming principles, such as functions and variables, were introduced across different steps.”

Though it was unusual to have an intern at home, the strong work culture at Vernier helped Dara feel a sense of community. “Everyone is really friendly and informal, so I felt very comfortable working with other people,” Dara said. “The Slack conversations about COVID life helped put a smile on my face whenever I read through them.”

The Future

Though Dara’s still not sure about career goals, this internship has inspired Dara to continue sharpening her JavaScript skills. She’s considering learning a C programming language, too. 

This experience has also expanded her interest in STEM past computer science. She’s now interested in learning more about engineering and, since her mentor Tom taught high school physics and Vernier was founded by a high school physics teacher, Dara feels ready to give physics some attention. 

“Being surrounded by so many people who were physics majors makes me want to go back and give physics a try—just to see what all the hype is about,” Dara said.

At Vernier, we look forward to inspiring more students to explore STEM careers and apply their knowledge to the real world. We can’t wait to see the important work future interns will do.

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