NSF internship prepares grad students for diverse career paths

Posted: January 11, 2021
COSI building exterior
Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in downtown Columbus

An Ohio State engineering education graduate student has earned a unique award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the organization’s commitment to preparing a competitive and diverse STEM workforce.

Abigail Clark, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Engineering Education, is one of just a few Ohio State students ever to receive NSF Non-Academic Research Internship for Graduate Students (INTERN) funding. The award provides support for non-academic research internships for graduate students to support career opportunities in any sector of the U.S. economy.

Working with the Center of Science and Industry’s (COSI) Center for Research and Evaluation (CRE), Clark is primarily responsible for developing methods or instruments to evaluate the museum’s permanent exhibits. The one-semester internship was originally set to end in May 2020, but was derailed when COSI closed due to COVID-19. Fortunately, she has been able to return to COSI virtually this term to continue her work and gain additional experience.

Abigail Clark

“COSI provides the unique opportunity to gain experience in research and evaluation in the informal engineering and science education space. The CRE is one of the only, if not the only, museum-based center of its type,” said Clark. “As a Columbus native, I’ve grown up with COSI in my backyard, but I didn’t know it was home to this unique resource until I was introduced it.”

Clark’s research interests currently focus on pre-college engineering education in informal learning settings. While she has gained valuable research experience on an active NSF award on engineering pathways, that project occurs within a traditional academic setting and focuses on college students. The experience at COSI offers the chance to focus on informal learning and with people of all ages, including pre-college students and the general public.

“Working with COSI’s CRE allows me to gain experience on how social science research and evaluation is conducted outside of academia, and how the results influence the decisions made by management within the museum,” said Clark. “I’m also able to develop additional research skills, such as instrument development, that would be difficult to do within the other projects I’ve worked on at Ohio State. All of this is preparing me for a future career in a variety of settings.”    

Along with supporting COSI and advancing her career, Clark’s internship could also benefit the pathways project, said Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator Rachel Kajfez.

“Understanding how exposure to science and engineering through programs such as these influence students who may go on to study engineering could provide a unique insight for the project.”

“Participating in this internship is truly a unique opportunity for Abby,” added Kajfez. “Having her work in this setting is a great opportunity to showcase the range of careers that are possible with a PhD in engineering education. The options are endless, and Abby is gaining real world skills she will be able to apply to a variety of potential future jobs.”

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu

Category: Students