Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is a leader in encouraging its students to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities provided through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Internship Challenge. The MLSC’s flagship workforce development program connects employers with students through an online platform and subsidizes intern stipends for small to mid-size life sciences companies. The numbers demonstrate this clearly with more than 330 internship opportunities for WPI students facilitated through the program over the past ten years.
David Ortendahl, Director of Corporate Relations at WPI’s Career Development Center (CDC), has been a strong advocate of the Internship Challenge program since its inception in 2009. He has not only seen the program evolve into a “wonderful pipeline that presents valuable hands-on experience and opportunities for students,” as David says, but has heard firsthand the impact these internships have on a student’s career path.
A student may spend two to three years going to school with the intention of working in a lab only to have a summer internship confirm this is their passion or change the trajectory of their career path due to a newfound interest.
WPI alumnus Myles Walsh spent two summers interning through the MLSC Internship Challenge program. During his first internship in 2009, the program’s inaugural year, he worked at BioTechnic Products, a biotechnology company located in Worcester. He credits the meaningful hands-on experience and the unique opportunity to work beside Dr. Prakash Kadkade, the company’s president and CEO, for shaping his career.
“Working at BioTechnic provided real life work experience. The knowledge and skills I gained by learning the science and applying it to the lab was instrumental. However, it was the opportunity to forge a mentorship with Dr. Kadke and work beside him learning the business components of a biotech company that really piqued my interest.”
Myles graduated from WPI in 2010 and spent his next internship, with TRA360, pursuing his new passion in business. “It was this opportunity through the MLSC’s Internship Challenge program that solidified that the business side of biotech was interesting to me. It was what I wanted to do. Looking back, the MLSC internship program helped put me on a path to where I am now, a Senior Biopharma Business Development Manager.”
Internships are not just resume builders, but the compass to mapping out a student’s career track in the thriving life sciences industry. The various directions a student can take are innumerable. One internship could alter that course, as it did for Myles, or reaffirm the path is the right one as it did for student Katrina VanderVliet.
Katrina, a Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering student at WPI, spent the summer of 2018 interning at Bio2 Technologies, a position she secured through the MLSC Internship Challenge. Katrina spent her summer working for the small Woburn-based company in their R&D department on bone implants made out of bioglass.
Bioglass was something I had never heard of before and the opportunity to learn all about it was very exciting. I worked directly on the instruments running strength tests on equipment like the Instron. The valuable experience I gained opened the door with my new internship position and reinforced my passion for R&D.
From 10 years ago to today, the MLSC continues to position the Internship Challenge as the beacon to developing a successful talent pipeline in the life sciences ecosystem. Collaborative partnerships with institutions, like WPI, make this program so impactful, setting young students in Massachusetts on the pathway to successful careers in the life sciences.
In celebration of 10 years of the Internship Challenge, past and current interns, companies, and colleges and universities are encouraged to share their story.