Success Story

NIST’s SHIP Sails for Students and Researchers

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One way to measure the success of a STEM program is to determine the impact of the program on the participants after the program has concluded. For the students who participate in the Summer High School Internship Program (SHIP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), this impact is evident. In fact, each year more than half of them request to continue their research projects past the conclusion of the summer program and into the school year.

At NIST, this level of student dedication is matched by mentor commitment that also stretches past the end of the summer. Often, the NIST scientists who volunteer as SHIP mentors are rewarded doubly for this dedication, they have the satisfaction of building a STEM mentoring relationship with a student and, in many cases, their own research is furthered by that student's involvement. For the SHIP students, they may even have the opportunity to be recognized as co-authors on research studies.

SHIP mentor Dr. Brian Maranville remarked that his "student's work made a major contribution to the project, and my work since then has built heavily on the base the student provided."

Dr. Cindi Dennis, the SHIP point of contact at NIST's Material Measurement Laboratory, is responsible for charting SHIP's course ahead, gauging the program's success and applying lessons learned. "Most of the SHIP mentors have been very impressed with their students, and have had very productive relationships with them. In fact, NIST is very proud that three SHIP students have gone on to be INTEL Science Talent Search competition semi-finalists," she stated. The semi-finalists were selected based on the research projects they had begun the previous summer at SHIP.

SHIP participants are high school juniors and seniors who have been selected through a competitive process to participate in cutting-edge research at NIST. They work closely with NIST staff scientists and engineers on specific research problems. NIST awards 30 to 40 SHIP internships each summer, and the students must commit to 6 to 8 weeks of summer research.

The summer of 2012 will be the third summer for SHIP. For such a new program, SHIP has many facets that take students beyond their primary research project. SHIP draws on the groundwork of NIST's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program for college students, and shares activities for both sets of students. One of the goals of both SHIP and SURF is to expose the students to a wide range of topics through seminars, networking with other students, and tours of NIST facilities. SHIP also exposes high school students to other government technical careers through lunches with local government scientists and engineers.

According to Dr. Dennis, "What makes SHIP unique is really the type and breadth of research that is done at NIST, and what the students are exposed to over the course of the summer." For example, last summer the SHIP research projects had applications that ranged from genetics to solar cells to neutron reflectometry.

Six diverse labs at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland, participate in SHIP, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the Engineering Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Material Measurement Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Physical Measurement Laboratory.

During their tenure at NIST, students plan and conduct experiments, record and analyze data, test hypotheses, and document research results. Many of the students use state-of-the-art instruments such as scanning-tunneling electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes, as well as equipment for ferromagnetic resonance force microscopy. For the most part, such experiences are usually only available to graduate students, so the opportunities afforded SHIP students can be life-changing events from a vocational standpoint. SHIP students get to see and be part of the practice of scientific research and associated engineering problem-solving in a professional rather than an academic setting. They gain valuable insight into what their work would be like should they choose careers in research, engineering, or technology management.

Dr. Dennis said that SHIP's student participants give the program high ratings and consider the program valuable to their education and future careers. She is also pleased to see many SHIP alumni continuing their relationship with NIST by applying to the SURF program. It is apparent that SHIP will have a long-lasting effect upon the students. SHIP mentors are clearly meeting the challenge to encourage the next generation of our nation's scientists, engineers, inventors and technology-oriented executives. The program is a model for NIST's investment in the future, and it is moving full steam ahead.