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Saving the Summer Internship

New Summer Industry Projects Program (SIPP) connects Duke Engineering master’s students with real-world work experiences despite the disruption of COVID-19

In February 2020, Duke Master of Engineering Management (MEM) student Abhishek Sathe accepted an internship offer—a decision that normally would have confirmed his plans for the summer and given him a much-needed break from the stress of applications and interviews. Due to the pandemic, however, the company rescinded its offer. Sathe re-started his internship search and landed another offer—only to see that one rescinded as well.  

Unfortunately, many of Sathe’s peers across Duke Engineering master’s programs were experiencing similar difficulties finding internships, a critical part of their professional development and a requirement for students in the MEM and Master of Engineering programs.  

Recognizing the challenges they were facing due to COVID-19, Pratt School of Engineering Executive-in-Residence Jon Reifschneider (MEM’06) sprang into action, quickly launching the Summer Industry Projects Program (SIPP) to provide students opportunities to work remotely and gain real-world experience. Over 70 Duke Engineering master’s students were matched with 33 eight-week projects, including technically-oriented initiatives, such as data analysis and software development, as well as business-oriented projects such as market analyses for potential new products. Sponsor organizations included large tech companies, government agencies and startups, many of them founded or run by Duke alumni.

Abhishek Sathe was matched with a SIPP project that leveraged his interest in data science. He and his project teammates, master’s students Sumin Lan and Xiaoyan Liu, have been remotely collaborating on three client-based data analyses for their project sponsor, Durham-based mobile data collection pioneer Mi-Corporation. “The projects are very challenging—it has been a fantastic learning opportunity,” Sathe said. He, Lan and Liu have also enjoyed a unique benefit—daily interaction with the company’s CEO, Greg Clary (BSEE ’90; MS ’92), who has supervised their project.

Two students crouching in a hallway wearing masks and face shieldsLike Sathe, biomedical engineering students Moriah Garcia and Altaful Amin had a stressful spring—both students’ internship interviews were canceled. “This program definitely gave me some optimism back,” Garcia said. The two were selected for a project for UCB Pharma.

“Moriah and Altaf’s work is plotting out a best practices roadmap on influential factors to give collaborations between academia and industry the best chance of success,” said Brittany Davis (MS’13, PhD’16), head of external medical funding and collaborations at UCB Pharma. “UCB is formalizing its research collaboration process and we’ll be integrating key learnings from their research. Setting up effective research collaborations with our innovative academic partners will enhance the impact of the research conducted together. That being said, our Duke interns’ work will be highly valuable to UCB with visibility across our organization.”

SIPP participants are already seeing positive results from their projects. MEM student Weijie (Ryan) Yi, an aspiring data analyst, was selected for a market research project with online retailer Wayfair. Due to his Wayfair experience, Yi performed well in later interviews and received two offers for internships that begin after SIPP ends. He accepted an opportunity with a China-based data analysis company to intern remotely beginning in August.

In addition to career experience, SIPP has offered students professional development. On June 1, students kicked off their projects with an orientation program that provided training on project management, communication, and remote collaboration skills. Later opportunities included workshops on networking, building an online professional identity, and communicating the value of project experiences.

Jon Reifschneider attributes much of the program’s success to the strength of Duke’s alumni network. “So many Duke engineering alums have dedicated time to sponsoring SIPP projects and mentoring our graduate students,” he said. “Although they had a difficult start to their summer, we expect great outcomes for these students.”

Thanks to its success and Duke Engineering’s continuing commitment to providing students impactful professional development opportunities, SIPP will return next summer, he said.