A Postcard From: Zainab Batool ’21

Name: Zainab Batool
Class Year: 2021
Major: Physics
Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan

Internship Placement: Photonics Center, Boston University
Job Title: Undergraduate Researcher
Location: Boston

I worked as an undergraduate researcher at the Photonics Center, Boston University, from May 21 to July 30. The project I worked on is under the domain of CELL-MET funded by an NSF grant and involves assembling high-resolution magnetometers. The aim of the project is to then use these magnetometers in cardiac disease detection as they were able to detect micro magnetic fields produced by organs in the human body, as well to create functionalized fabricated heart tissue patches (“heart on a chip” technology). It is not only interesting due to the various techniques involved but also because of its relevance to human needs where millions of people worldwide suffer from cardiac diseases such as heart arrhythmias.

My tasks included assembling these magnetometers by modifying a cheap, widely available accelerometer produced commercially and then further characterizing it. I also had to give bi-weekly presentations on research papers printed in many different physics/engineering fields.

I and other undergraduate researchers at the center also had different meetings and activities during the week, some of which involved nanofabrication sessions in which we prepared gold plated silicon wafers as well as talks on entrepreneurship and resume building, among other things.

I applied for the Bryn Mawr Summer Science Research program to work under the supervision of Professor Xuemei Cheng from the Physics Department and expressed an interest in biophysics in my interaction with her. When I got into the program she suggested the opportunity for me to work at Boston University and I jumped at the chance to not only work at such a top-notch research university but also to be able to experience life in Boston for a full 10 weeks!

Apart from all the academic takeaways of this summer I also fell in love with Boston during this time. It seemed to me the perfect mix of busy and happening and yet also peaceful. The best thing about the city is how expansive it is in terms of what it has on offer — all you need to do is take the “T” and you are free to go on a “duck tour” or try out Turkish cuisine or just head over to the beautiful Boston Public Library.

The most rewarding aspect of the entire summer for me was the ability to live independently — I was surprised how good I was at “adulting.” From cooking my own food to taking care of the apartment I lived in to silly roommate spats, it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be.

My internship can be summed up well with the adjectives independent, busy and educational, while the nouns that pop into my head for it are lots of reading (and then some more), magnets and microscopes.

A Postcard From: Joy Rukanzakanza ’19

Name: Joy Rukanzakanza
Class Year: 2019
Major: International Studies
Hometown: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Internship: BlackRock Inc.
Title: Aladdin Client Services Intern
Location: New York, Summer 2019

When I received my internship offer from BlackRock last fall, I had mixed emotions. I was ecstatic for a golden opportunity to engage a firm which is the world’s largest in the asset management industry, given my non-traditional academic background. However, my emotions were vacillating owing to this overwhelming inherent fear of failure. I would have to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world, get affordable housing, figure out my way around the city and find a group of friends to ensure I keep my sanity during the summer. All of this was worsened by the fact that I am not a finance major, neither am I an economics guru nor a computer science student and here I was, about to pursue a 10-week program at a Wall Street firm with a role that integrated my Achilles heels — finance and technology.

It wasn’t until my internship commenced that I realized that no amount of preparation could have readied me for the summer, because even if one had vast backgrounds in both finance and technology, BlackRock was still a new company with different subject matters and different ways of tackling different challenges. The first two weeks were extremely challenging because we underwent intensive coding drill sessions, which exposed me to so many new ways of solving problems and still enlightened me on how much I did not know — which meant sleepless study nights during the summer.  Instead of that demoralizing me, it prompted me to develop strategies on how to be an excellent performer despite having minimal resources and background knowledge. I found myself strategically devising ways of not only being a good fit for the role but of making the role a good fit for me as well.

At the BlackRock Office — New York.

I looked no further than my major. Being an International Studies major meant that I had enjoyed the benefits of pursuing a plethora of disciplines in the social sciences field — from studying ethnography in anthropology to learning about the impact of power struggles in political science. This course load helped me develop a holistic view of the world, shape different patterns of thought around issues that affect us on a daily and consolidated my presentation and teamwork capabilities since there were group presentations on almost every course I took. I therefore applied my presentation skills which were constantly sculpted during my academic career at Bryn Mawr during the internship, which worked in my favor since group presentations formed the core of my internship experience. As an intern in the Aladdin Client Services (ACS) division, a role which requires one to constantly communicate with clients and tackle challenging problems with the most professional demeanor, applying that skillset helped set a solid foundation for success during the summer.

Apart from learning about the business of the firm, the internship proffered me opportunities to establish professional and social networks through avenues such as coffee chats, firm-wide social events and volunteering opportunities. Most importantly, I was honored to be part of an organization that not only cares about delivering high-quality service to its clients, but also cares about the communities those clients come from as well. It is such principles, coupled with a fulfilling summer experience, that therefore aided my decision to return to BlackRock for a full-time opportunity next year.

Community Service Day — Governor’s Island.

With some of my intern friends at the firm-wide social event — Boat Basin.

That joyful moment when you have just finished your capstone project presentation.

A Postcard From: Jasmine Mirfattah ’19

Before I tell you about what I did this summer, let me ask you a question: have you heard of “Where’s Waldo”?

Okay, so for those of you who haven’ t, it’s a children’s book where you have to find this dude named Waldo in an image of a crowded scene.

The reason why I brought up Where’s Waldo is because trying to find him can be just as difficult to find as a white-fingered mud crab, which is native to the Chesapeake Bay and what I spent a lot of time working with this summer while I was interning at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The work I did for my independent project at SERC revolved around the Chesapeake Bay Parasite Project, which is a long-term study that takes population data on these mud crabs as well as various other organisms; the way that it works is that we take collectors filled with oyster shells and deploy them in various locations around the Chesapeake Bay and, after 2 months, retrieve, dump the contents onto a screen and place all the crabs into a bottle. And they can be very difficult to see, as they can range in size from the size of a bottle cap to as small as a tick. Also, it is important to note that there are a total of 72 of these collectors in five different estuaries, with 10 locations in each one, with one to two collectors at each location. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that there are a lot of crabs.

The only way we would be able to complete this every year in a timely manner is with volunteers, or as we like to call them, citizen scientists! We have people work in teams to collectively find and collect all the crabs. However, a big concern that comes to mind when working with volunteers is their data quality, which is a recurring and understandable concern. These data that the citizen scientists collect are used for real science research, so it is important that they do it systematically and thoroughly. Because of this, after each team is finished sorting, we have them switch screens and verify another team’s collector to find any missing crabs, which then becomes the original team’s error rate.

Thus, the main question that is often asked, and the question that I tried to answer with all this information, is whether different groups of people collect data differently. And to answer that question, we needed to have information on the people that participated in the project; since 2015, volunteers are asked to fill out a voluntary survey that gives information like the person’s age, level of education, profession and experience in this or related projects as well as an informed consent agreement that allows us to use that information in this study. With that information, the volunteers can then be appropriately grouped by their various demographics. I have since take that data and integrated it with the crab data to create a database using the programming language, R, to do statistical analysis on their data quality. Now that the database is complete, the actual analysis can begin; in the coming months, I will do this analysis to hopefully answer our main question and related questions of volunteer demographics and data quality.

A Postcard From: Amanda Xifaras ’20

Name: Amanda Xifaras
Class Year: 2020
Major: Growth and Structure of Cities
Hometown: Mansfield, Mass. 

Internship Placement: Philly Office Retail
Job Title: Real Estate Development Internship
Location: Philadelphia

What’s happening at your internship?

At my internship I worked on a variety of tasks while working for different departments of Philly Office Retail, including working for the Jumpstart Germantown Program and working with the CFO on accounting projects. While working on the Jumpstart Germantown Program, I performed loan underwriting of 25 loans, maintaining internal client databases and communicating with clients as well as facilitating site visits, settlements and draw requests. While working with the CFO, I was responsible for preparing payoff statement invoices and bank reconciliations as well as maintaining financial records in QuickBooks. In addition to working on the program and with the CFO, I conducted research on President Ken Weinstein’s properties in Germantown to reduce taxes, to request zoning changes, and to apply for grants to eliminate brownfields. I also shadowed the president in various meetings both in the office and onsite with lawyers, clients and other real estate professionals as well as attending variance and historic preservation court hearings.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied to this internship because I am passionate about real estate and wanted to learn more about real estate development. I’m trying to find my niche within real estate and getting work experience through internships are the best way to do so. What I liked about Philly Office Retail is that it does progressive real estate development. They try to build wealth within low-income areas through their Jumpstart Germantown Program.

Living in a new city? What has that experience been like for you?

Living in Philadelphia has been wonderful. I lived in West Philadelphia near Penn’s campus. Having a 9-to-5 schedule everyday gave me a taste of work life after college. Completely living on my own meant that I was responsible for cooking all of my meals, shopping and cleaning up after myself, which took planning in advance in order to fit everything that I had to do into my schedule. In addition, having to figure and rely on public transportation was something else to consider while planning my day. I feel that I have really increased my time-management skills this summer. I definitely feel that I have developed and matured because of my internship experience.

What is most rewarding about your internship?

The most rewarding part about my internship was all of the impacts that were made. I was proud to work for a company that invested $10 million into revitalizing Germantown. Through the Jumpstart Germantown Program, over 90 loans were granted by Philly Office Retail to first-time real estate developers who used the loans to revitalized over 90 properties in Germantown. Over the summer, I worked on 25 of these loans. When properties were first purchased, I went on initial inspections with the president. Throughout the renovation process, I would go on draw inspections with the project manager and see each property develop. Being able to see the change within Germantown was especially rewarding.

A Postcard From: Ellen Wright ’19

Name: Ellen Wright
Class Year: 2019
Major: Sociology
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.

Internship Placement: Global Fund for Children
Job Title: Intern
Location: Washington, D.C.

My project supervisor Kim approached my fellow Bryn Mawr intern Meagan and I a few weeks into our internships about us facilitating parts of the Latin America and Caribbean team’s annual retreat. She explained that the goal of the retreat was for the four members of the LAC team to assess what their priorities would be for the coming 19th fiscal year of Global Fund for Children, and us serving as facilitators would not only give us a chance to involve ourselves but also allow her a chance to focus on participating in the meetings. Meagan and I were both happy to opt in, and to raid the office supply room for markers and sticky notes.

Meagan and I were placed in charge of facilitating three sections of the week-long retreat—the after-action review of the Novo Migration project, as well as the issue and country prioritization sessions.

For the after-action review, all staff were invited to participate in an assessment of how the work was going as GFC entered the second year of the three-year project. The Novo Migration project represents one of the latest pieces of GFC’s developing mission and model. Since its founding in 1997 by Bryn Mawr alum Maya Ajmera, GFC has been a grant-making institution funding nascent grassroots organizations dedicated to a range of topics relating to children and youth, from encouraging children’s development through sports to helping survivors of child trafficking. The Novo Migration project, however, would be one of the first efforts of GFC to combat challenges at a structural level, by building a cohort of partners all dedicated to a single goal of serving adolescent migrant girls. This meeting was an opportunity for GFC to reflect on what had gone well, and what could be improved as similar projects roll out.

It was exciting as a sociology major to witness GFC not only consider the larger systemic issues confronting adolescent migrant girls in addition to addressing their immediate needs, but also evolve their grant-making to thinking of affecting greater structural change with more advocacy-focused work. This type of structural-based thinking was echoed in the issue and country prioritization sessions Meagan and I led.

During the retreat, the team identified LGBT+ youth in the LAC region as a target population they wanted to prioritize, and as an intern I had the opportunity to draft the Issue Strategy Report which will eventually be realized as the latest cohort organized by GFC. As a sociology major concerned with developing intentional programs designed to address larger social change, I helped to locate potential partners and identify both the challenges confronting LGBT+ youth in the LAC region as well as the responses we hoped to see from the grassroots-level. I had applied for the internship at GFC because I believed strongly in focusing change around the grassroots-level, and getting to be a part of their next project on a topic I care deeply about was an unbelievable experience.

Learn more about Bryn Mawr’s Department of Sociology and LILAC Internship Partners.

A Postcard From: Valeria Aguilera Avila ’20

The day I landed in Santiago, Chile, was the moment I realized what REAL jet lag felt like. Sitting in a plane for more than nine hours in one position is pretty intense, but so worth the trip. My name is Valeria Aguilera Avila, I am a junior sociology major at Bryn Mawr College and I went to Santiago, Chile, for a two-month long summer internship!

My internship was focused on creating a better business for Chilean women who work in the informal economy. My supervisor, Professor Karin Berlien, is one of the co-heads of the PRODEMU nonprofit organization focused on women’s rights and equality in Latin America. I worked with a small group of 12 women who enrolled in this program in order to learn strategies to improve their business, especially since they came from low-income backgrounds and live in a developing country. As an intern my duties were:

  • Attend and take notes for each class the PRODEMU women had at the Universidad de Valparaíso (Campus Santiago)
  • Read feminist papers about the informal economy in Chile
  • Help facilitate activities and discussion with the PRODEMU women
  • Conduct research on feminist economics in Latin America

Although my internship was full of great opportunities, there was a downside. The University of Valparaíso was actually on strike, along with several other Chilean universities, for women’s equality. The feminist movement is taking a stance against patriarchal forces in their institutions. The women in the university took a stance against the president of the college due to some sexual assault accusations from students. They hung up several banners around the campus and chairs covered the entrances. Due to this, the number of meetings with the PRODEMU women were cut. Even though this made my internship site inaccessible, the significance of the strikes empowered me to feel thankful that I was allowed to be a part of this movement in a slight way. (The picture reads: CAUTION! MACHISMO KILLS)

In addition, the IES Program was part of the reason why I had such a great time in Santiago because they introduced the students to the active social scene in Santiago. Some of the things we explored were Cerro San Cristobal, a hill many people hike up in order to visit the statue of Santa Maria; another was Barrio Bellavista, a night and day time socially inclined town where people eat, drink, and dine. Furthermore, I also took a seminar course at the IES center that helped me gain some cross-cultural analysis strategies to understand, compare, and contrast United States culture to the one in Chile.

Being given this opportunity to work in a different country has been such a fulfilling experience because I got to explore a different culture and immerse myself into an internship that captured my academic interests. I am beyond thankful that Bryn Mawr College gave me the opportunity to travel and broaden my experiences and do some hands-on work related to my interests in Latin American studies with this internship!

A Postcard From: Allegra Wham ’19

Name: Allegra Wham
Class Year: 2019
Major: Sociology
Hometown: Arlington, Va.

Internship Placement: Pilot Light Chefs
Job Title: Public Health Intern
Location: Chicago

This summer, I lived and worked in Chicago! I interned at Pilot Light Chefs, a food education nonprofit. Pilot Light was founded by four Chicagoland chefs to bring food education to low-income schools in the South Side through everyday school subjects.

Traditionally, a chef volunteer comes in to a classroom in one of the 15 partner schools and helps teach a lesson that deals with food; these often have greater purposes, like teaching empathy. The lessons brought to the classrooms are created in a collaboration between teachers and chefs. I sat in on a couple of lesson planning days where teachers and chefs added to the lesson deck and it was amazing to see these two seemingly separate careers come together in one room. Moreover, the lessons are streamlined with Pilot Light’s Food Education Standards, which are the first of its kind. These standards help set the path for students to learn how food can create common threads between their classmates, family members, and someone walking by them on the street. These standards also show students how advocacy can play into their everyday lives; all of the lessons created include potential advocacy projects that students in different grade bands can do.

The 7 Food Education Standards are:

  • Food connects us to each other.
  • Foods have sources and origins.
  • Food and the environment are interconnected.
  • Food behaviors are influenced by external and internal factors.
  • Food impacts health.
  • We can make positive and informed food choices.
  • We can advocate for food choices and changes that impact ourselves, our communities, and our world.

I honestly didn’t know that much about food education going in and it was enlightening to read these standards (and their larger descriptions) on my first day of work.

This summer I was given many different tasks — I researched, wrote thank you notes to donors, designed materials to be handed out at different events, created decks for stakeholders, helped with the curriculum library, created packets to send to organizations for grants, and more. In addition, while I wasn’t able to see a lesson in a school, I did get to see (and participate in) a mini lesson three times a week for three weeks. PL had a first-time partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. A PL teacher on her summer break would make rice bowls with campers from a different Chicago Parks Camp and I got to help! We would make these bowls with half of the campers for 40 minutes and then they would switch and “workout” in the Blackhawks’ practice arena training room. One of the best parts was introducing foods, many of which we take for granted, to these kids and seeing their faces. Many of the kids tried blueberries, raspberries, and broccoli for the first time. I feel really lucky to have worked at PL because I learned so much about food education, public health, and, though it sounds cliché, myself and what I want to potentially do after BMC.

My supervisor, and the Executive Director of PL, is actually a Bryn Mawr alum, which was really fun! I found out about PL through talking to her in the spring. It was really inspiring to work with her and see a strong and successful grad. I really enjoyed working in and learning about food education/public health and exploring Chicago!


A Postcard From: James Frazier ’19

Name: James Frazier
Class Year: 2019
Major: Anthropology
Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M.

Placement: Koobi Fora Field School
Location: East Turkana Basin, Kenya

I first learned of the Koobi Fora Field School through my anthropology professor, Maja Šešelj. Field school is … a strange thing. Broadly speaking, it is both study abroad and summer research, while still managing to be neither of those things exactly. I spent six weeks in Northern Kenya conducting a paleoecological research project. With the help of my mentor, Amanda McGrosky, I investigated how life history traits (such as reproductive strategies, life span, etc.) influenced changes in the abundance of species population during the early Paleolithic (approx. 2.6-1.8 million years ago). We will hopefully be presenting our findings at conferences this fall and next year. Since I know that paleoecology isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, in fact I knew nothing about it until field school, I’ll describe field school like this:

Imagine: 25 exhausted, jet lagged and eager students, enough scientists to start a small conference, and a support staff of the world’s most incredible mechanics and cooks that can work miracles with canned beans and rice. Now load them up into range rovers and a 16 seater, open air, ex-military Unimog and drive them up the length of Kenya.  Then send a few of them out into over 100-degree heat to walk around and collect fossils for days on end. Six weeks, 43 dik-diks, eight scorpions, 232 fossil collections, one research paper and a plan for the future later, send them all home covered in dirt. You better believe I am absolutely ready to do it again next year.

Students from Bryn Mawr have gone to the Koobi Fora Field School in the past so I was reassured about its academic rigor and I knew what an amazing experience it could be if I decided to attend; however, I also knew that my experience would inherently be different than theirs. I am a transgender man and the concerns I had about a summer spent with a small research team in an isolated region of Kenya aren’t ones shared by the average student. The research I conducted into the academics of the field schools I considered was only a small fraction of the work I did to make sure the program would be a place where I could be physically safe as well as supported. While trying to gather as much information as possible, I stumbled on an entire community of queer and trans* researchers and scientist willing to support and advise me, or put me in contact with others that might know more. Before I committed to the Koobi Fora Field School, I spoke with so many individuals who wanted nothing more than to see me succeed. Even if I had decided against going to field school, finding that community made all the work I had done worth it. I eagerly await the day I able to be a voice in that community and a support for others.

While I spent hours and days (and what sometimes felt like years) preparing for this field school, I had very little idea of what I would actually be doing when I got there. I knew the general idea of course: it’s a paleoanthropological field school in the East Turkana Basin in Northern Kenya and I’d be working on a research project with a mentor. As to how those vague ideas translated into reality, I had no clue. But I knew that with the preparation I had done, I’d be able to succeed no matter what situation I walked into. Though it wasn’t always easy, it was absolutely amazing.

One of the biggest surprises was that, while my primary interest is in biological anthropology and I plan to focus on human remains and fossil hominins, for field school I was assigned to a paleoecology project. Paleoecology is not a field I have ever explored, and at first I was concerned that my background would mean I wouldn’t be able to complete the project. Plus, since I plan on studying humans I was worried that a summer spent studying paleoecology might not be the most useful to me. That, however, was an oversimplification of the project. Yes, it was the summer of paleoecology, but it was also a time where I learned how to code, analyze data and present it to others in meaningful way. I got experience working in the field, building relationships and making connections with other researches. And it turns out, once I let myself be open to it, I actually love paleoecology and I may even be rethinking my career path.

The experiences I gained during field school, the relationships I’ve made and the conversations I’ve had, have already influenced not only my academic studies for the upcoming year, but how I am approaching my future. Each researcher focused on a different field of anthropology and geology and each person was deeply passionate about their work. The summer has taught me that I don’t need to settle, that there is still so much to learn, and so many areas to explore. I am working to find a career that will let me keep and use that passion every single day.

A Postcard From: Catherine Tsai ’20

Name: Catherine Tsai
Class Year: 2020
Major: Biology
Hometown: Wayne, N.J.

Internship Placement: University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Philadelphia

What’s happening at your internship?

I am working in a skin cancer biology lab in the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of medicine. I am currently working with another member of the lab to investigate the role of BTG2, a gene that might play tumor suppressing roles in cancer. The BTG2 gene has not been studied in skin or melanoma, and the mechanisms by which it suppresses tumors are relatively unknown. We are using our findings about the functional role of BTG2 that we collected from in vitro experiments to guide more medically relevant experiments in vivo using mouse models. I am also working on improving 3-dimensional human engineered skin tissue grafts so they can be grafted onto host mice. We plan on engineering the grafts so that some of them will either have BTG2 overexpressed or knocked down. Hopefully this will help us further define the roles for BTG2.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I applied for this internship in order to gain more research experience in the biomedical field. I am planning on either going to medical school or taking up a career in research. Dermatology is the field that I am interested in if I decide to go into either field, which is why I choose this particular lab.

Was there anything special about how you found this internship?

Last semester I had trouble finding research in the biomedical field, especially in an area as specific as dermatology. I didn’t think I’d go as far as contacting a lab outside of the Tri-Co to do off-campus research during the semester, but I’m very glad that I was able to join this lab, and that they are allowing me to work with them for the next couple of years.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

My favorite part of this internship is being able to work in the lab day to day. Last semester, I was only able to come in about twice a week. It is much easier to stay up to date with everything that goes on in the lab now that I am here all the time. I have gotten to know the lab members a lot more, and have been able to get more involved in the projects that are going on.






A Postcard From: Shannan Stafford ’19

Name: Shannan Stafford
Class Year: 2019
Major: Political Science, Psychology; Minor: Education

Internship Placement: The Franklin Institute
Job Title: Museum Programs & Outreach Initiatives Intern/Science Education Intern
Location: Philadelphia

Hey y’all! It’s almost the end of the summer and I am happy to report that I have learned that working with museum programming is way more fun than I thought it would be. This summer I have been interning at The Franklin Institute, a science museum focused on inspiring people of all ages to learn more about science and technology. My main goal for this internship was to learn more about how STEM can be made more accessible for elementary and middle school kids and what that could look like in both formal and informal learning. I also wanted to learn more about the types of programs and events museums can offer that utilize their vast resources for underserved communities and what that process looks like from behind the scenes. To do this, I have been helping the professional development department plan and execute their various museum programming including Community Night, Science After Hours, Leap Into Science, and their various Professional Development courses for educators.

The Franklin was a great place to explore the uses of my major in Psychology and my minor in Education because many of the professional development courses as well as the curriculum development is centered around the science of learning and helping educators understand research on the brain in order to aid in teaching. This has allowed me to gain more hands-on experiences with the content that I have learned in my psychology courses, such as Human Cognition and the multitude of courses I have taken focusing on developmental psychology.

Surprisingly, the most applicable courses to my internship have been the education courses, such as Multicultural Education and Advocating Diversity in Higher Education, which allowed me to practice creative problem-solving and learn ways to make learning or teaching engaging and relevant. As a space that hosts people from a wide range of educational backgrounds, it was really cool to see how my coursework for my major could be applied to a job that I thought would require a lot more specific training.

While the job is awesome in its own right, the perks are just as great! Interning at The Franklin has also allowed me to visit all of the various museums Philadelphia has to offer all for free and participate in science events within the city. It has also created opportunities to network with people from a wide range of professions within the museum and discover what other careers the world has to offer. Being in this space has really helped make Philly feel more like a home and has truly opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. This summer has made me infinitely more hopeful about the future, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!