Career Experience Before College Gives Students an Advantage

February 2016
Summer AFCEA Interns
AFCEA summer interns

For the past 54 years, MITRE has collaborated with the Lexington-Concord, Mass., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronic Association (AFCEA) on a fellowship program for recent high school graduates. This program awards a scholarship and a 10-week paid internship to 12 students who spend their summer at MITRE before leaving for their first year of college.

The students who receive the fellowship are following diverse technical paths and attending different universities. However, they all agree on one thing: the experience made them better prepared as college students and future professionals.

Engineering

Riley Davis, now a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a double major in mechanical engineering and German. She spent most of her summer at MITRE researching application virtualization and how particular applications operate under network conditions. "I was surprised at how much material was unfamiliar to me, but my supervisor and whole department were really great about answering any questions I had," Davis says.

John Loftus attends Worcester Polytechnic Institute as a robotics engineering major. "I had previous knowledge in some programming languages, but this was my first time working with Linux. I learned a lot. MITRE seems to always be designing, testing, and creating the next big thing."

Clemson University freshman Mitch Hullihen is studying engineering and spent his summer working on a microwave engineering project. "I feel this is definitely going to help with my major. And being an AFCEA fellow gave me a great opportunity to get a head start on my career, especially at a place like MITRE. I felt like the work I did mattered."

Ian Paul worked on the Holodeck project, specifically with data visualization. "If I wasn't an AFCEA fellow, I probably would not have had the chance to work with software development this early on," he says. "Everyone was working on really cool projects with clear goals in mind, and I learned so much more than I expected." Paul is majoring in engineering physics at Olin College of Engineering.

Computer Science

Before entering Claremont McKenna College as a computer science major, Patrick McDonough worked on a virtuality project at MITRE that allowed him to brush up on his coding and Java skills. "I think the most important thing is having a good work experience," he says. "Most people don't get an internship before their first year of college, and it was a great networking opportunity."

Vyshnavi Chunduru, another computer science major, is now at Northeastern University. She was surprised at the level of flexibility at MITRE. "There were so many opportunities to change what you worked on and grow and develop in new areas. Also, all the AFCEA fellows were in different departments, which was really cool because I could ask them what kind of work they were doing and maybe learn something new."

University of New Haven freshman Matthew Vavruska studied computer programming before coming to MITRE; he's now a computer science major. "I definitely felt included, which surprised me," he says. "I attended project meetings, and they didn't treat me like you might expect to be treated as a typical intern somewhere else."

Mathematics & Science

Mathematics major Caroline Johnston is a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She spent most of her summer working on neural networks, which is a method of teaching computers to teach themselves.

"I'm more math inclined, but the essence of computer science is really based off equations and math," she says. "I also liked MITRE's project work because it helps real people. I think there's a huge benefit to working in the public interest."

Jackie Chea studies biology at Harvard College. She worked on a collaboration-space evaluation project. "All the material was completely new to me, but it was interesting to see and experience this kind of setting. I had never seen programming in real time either, so it was a good learning experience." Chea used the time between projects to sharpen her own coding skills.

Nekeisha Johnson, a freshman physics major at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, also worked on part of the Holodeck project. She had previous programming experience, but spent the beginning of her summer at MITRE learning all she could to perform her work with Holodeck.

"I had moments in the work where I didn't know how exactly to do something, but I had many people I could turn to for help."

Still Finding Their Way

Viviane Garth is attending Princeton University. She has not chosen a major yet, but is interested in physics and computer science. She is also interested in computer graphics—something she explored at MITRE. "I was working on collaboration-space evaluation [like Jackie Chea], but I'm also very interested in art. When my supervisor asked if anyone had artistic experience, I volunteered. I assisted him with an Illustrator project and also helped design user interface graphics."

Like Garth, Andrew Attar has not officially chosen a major. He's deciding between economics and the pre-medical program at Tufts University. While at MITRE, he worked on developing a tool to monitor population health, specifically focusing on chronic diseases.

"This project was very helpful because it exposed me to a variety of technical skills and allowed me to develop programming skills of my own. MITRE is such a great place—it's very open to innovation and full of intelligent people."

Students interested in becoming future summer AFCEA interns can email us at students@mitre.org. The selection process for AFCEA interns begins in February. Read more about MITRE's Student Programs and campus recruiting events.

—by Emily Ready