Thirteen biomedical and other senior undergraduates have completed UCF’s first science-technology internship program, a collaboration working to build Central Florida’s biomedical workforce.

The College of Medicine, the UCF Office of Experiential Learning, and Career Source of Central Florida worked together to create the “Laboratory Experience and Research in Biomedical Sciences” (LERBS) internship. Through it, qualified students participate in undergraduate research, scholarly activities and teaching at UCF labs and nearby biomedical companies. Students work in different research labs at the College of Medicine in areas ranging from molecular and pathogenic microbiology to anatomy and physiology. They evaluate innovative laboratory methods, update lab protocols, conduct research, present their scholarly works and serve as team-based learning facilitators in university labs.

Students in the first cohort just finished their internship and presented their research in late June. Thirty more student interns will begin working in COM labs in the fall 2014 and spring 2015.

In addition to work experience, students also can help support themselves with the pay they receive for the six-month internship — $12 an hour for 20 hours a week. “By working and conducting research with nearby companies and UCF biomedical labs, our students obtain practical experience they can’t get in the classroom,” said Mohtashem Samsam, an M.D.-Ph.D. and associate professor at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences who is helping lead the effort.

UCF students Chemika St. Juste and Ryan Azarkhail worked as teaching assistants in the Burnett School’s human anatomy course this spring. “I have a passion to serve and a passion for people,” said St. Juste, who described the “meaningful” experience of seeing a young student grasp an anatomy concept. Azarkhail, who said he had never done research before, examined how other colleges and universities teach anatomy and compared that to UCF. The opportunities to do hands-on research and hands-on teaching “helped me as a student and they can help future students as well,” he said.

Proponents of the program say teaching and working with fellow learners gives interns relevant skills for today’s workforce. And as the Orlando area’s economic development becomes more tied to STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – experiential learning in biomedicine will help interns stand out in the job market.

“The experiences our interns are gaining will enhance their value to potential biotechnical employers in Central Florida,” said Dr. Samsam. “And through this program we can increase the diversity of our scientific and medical workforce. We can build our biomedical workforce in partnership with Career Source of Central Florida. This is in line with UCF’s goal to become our nation’s leading partnership university.

UCF faculty and staff exemplified the partnership spirit. Faculty provided interns the opportunity to do research and work in their labs. Staff and graduate students helped with intern recruiting and training. College of Medicine leaders supported the endeavor.

Each year, more than 20,000 UCF students participate in Office of Experiential Learning co-op, internship and service-learning programs. The office’s goal is to “ensure that all students have access to and include experiential learning courses in their academic programs to gain the relevant academic and professional skills they need to be work-ready and engaged citizens upon graduation.”

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