In the summer of 2009, Sally Trabucco '10 and Myles Walsh '10 were about to become seniors at WPI, when they joined the inaugural group of students to participate in the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s Internship Challenge.
Now, as the program marks its 10th anniversary, celebrating a successful run that has supported more than 4,000 internships at nearly 800 life sciences enterprises—including 345 experiences for 290 WPI students—Trabucco and Walsh say the program provided valuable knowledge and skills that accentuated their post-graduation success.
Trabucco interned at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where she learned the workings of an academic lab and realized she should continue for her doctorate.
She returned to the lab after graduation, earned a PhD in biomedical sciences, and now works as a senior scientist at Foundation Medicine Inc. in Cambridge. In her doctoral research she worked closely with one of her mentors from the summer internship.
“This was a very important connection that I already had and was able to continue throughout my PhD,” she says. “Having this kind of experience is so valuable when looking to the future in either graduate school or industry. I have been involved in hiring some graduates and know how important this kind of hands-on, real-life experience is in that process.”
Walsh worked at Biotechnic Products Ltd of Worcester, a company focused on the discovery, development, and production of so-called nutraceuticals. The following summer he was an MLSC intern at TRA360, a Watertown biomedical specialty consulting firm, where he created and managed the company’s first marketing database and attended industry conferences to expand business and build rapport with customers.
“The experience helped me discover my passion for the business environment in biotech—and not the lab,” Walsh says. “Without the program I could have easily spent my first years in the workforce figuring this out.”
The TRA360 experience also led to his first job as a customer support specialist and to a career in precision medicine where he identifies and develops partnerships with pharmaceutical companies that can utilize diagnostics in the development of cancer therapies in clinical trials.
“If I had to go back and choose a path for my career I would again choose this program to start with,” he says.
WPI now ranks third out of the Internship Challenge’s more than 230 colleges and universities in the total number of interns placed through the program. Over the 2018–19 Program Year, 22 WPI students participated in the program.
Currently, the program offers over 550 state-subsidized internships a year to community college, four-year college, and graduate students who are from Massachusetts or who are enrolled in the state. The 12-week subsidized positions are available to life sciences businesses with 100 or fewer employees in Massachusetts and no more than 250 worldwide. Larger companies also participate but are not reimbursed by the state.
“Since the pilot round of the program in 2009, WPI’s Career Development Center has been an outstanding partner,” says Ryan Mudawar, MLSC’s senior director of academic and workforce programs. “WPI’s staff and faculty have always been greatly enthusiastic about the program and understood early on the value to their students and employer relations. They make our jobs easier by actively and consistently promoting the program on campus and assisting students with their applications.”
David Ortendahl, director of corporate relations for WPI’s Career Development Center, said the partnership with MLSC has been highly beneficial for students and the university.
“Students gain valuable hands-on internship experiences that provide them with meaningful work to talk about on their resumes before graduation,” he says. “Upon graduation, students may be hired by the companies they interned with, or have built strong examples to talk about in interviews with other companies.”
Ortendahl said that since companies involved in the subsidized program are small to mid-sized firms, interns can play a more enhanced role in their operations.
Over the years WPI students have interned at life sciences enterprises that range from pharmaceutical firms to medical device companies.
Katrina VanderVliet ’20 was an MLSC intern in the summer of 2018 working for Bio2 Technologies, a Woburn company developing bone implants, helping with the R&D processes to gain FDA approval for the company’s new spinal device.
“It was a very educational experience where I felt extremely included,” says VanderVliet. “I gained a lot of knowledge in the medical device field and the measures that must go into place when trying to get a new product approved.”
VanderVliet worked this past summer in an internship at Medtronic in Danvers, which was not arranged through the MLSC.
“I don’t think I would have gotten this opportunity if I did not gain the knowledge that I did from Bio2 Technologies,” she points out.
So she encourages her fellow students to apply for the MLSC program. “You not only get paid for your time, but you learn many skills you can’t necessarily gain within the classroom.”
-By Thomas Coakley