Sandia LabNews

Sandia internships prove transformational for Prairie View A&M students

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ACCELERATED LEARNING — Space Jam, the winning team composed of mechanical, chemical and civil engineering students, focused on the tracking of acceleration and elevation of a switch, which is important in detecting malfunctions during flight missions. Space Jam team members, from left, included Kaleb Crawford, Kendall Seveor, Donald Okonkwo, Trinity Wiley and Chelsea Guidry.
(Photo courtesy of Breanna Gallegos-Schnedar)

Thirteen internships at two Sandia sites resulted in transformative experiences for Prairie View A&M University students in 2023. The opportunities delivered firsthand experience on how the research and development and business students could directly benefit the nation through their chosen career fields.

Prairie View A&M interns worked at one of the Sandia locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Livermore, California, in jobs aligning with their degrees, backgrounds and interest areas. While the students were embedded in diverse areas such as supply chain, electrical design, generation systems, cybersecurity, nuclear deterrence project management and systems surety engineering, they each gained an appreciation for how effective communications, teamwork and problem-solving skills impact success.

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STRATEGIC CONTRIBUTIONS — Year-round graduate intern Toya Acharya from Prairie View A&M working in Sandia’s Strategic Cyber Initiatives department uses his technical skills to detect host attacks earlier in the cybersecurity “kill chain.” (Photo courtesy of Toya Acharya)

Seven of the 13 Prairie View interns are now year-round interns, and one of the summer interns serves as a student ambassador for Sandia.

Toya Acharya is one of Prairie View’s doctoral students who is contributing full time to Sandia’s mission of reducing national security risks. As a year-round graduate intern in Strategic Cyber Initiatives, Acharya partners with a team of computer scientists seeking to mitigate attacks on U.S. enterprise security and critical infrastructure. Through his work on the TreeClock project, he develops statistical models helping detect host attacks earlier in what cyber professionals call “the kill chain.”

“Combining the knowledge I gained from school with the skills I obtained during my internship helped to broaden my understanding of national security needs. The intern program at Sandia also allowed me to tour different Labs across the [DOE] complex, attend talks pertaining to my field and receive invaluable mentoring from staff,” Toya said.

Toya’s contributions provide threat-informed national cybersecurity solutions using timing information in process execution logs. This type of impact directly fulfills Prairie View’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department objective to produce researchers who can innovate and contribute to evolving technological challenges.

“The Sandia-Prairie View partnership has opened up a tremendous opportunity for our students to work on projects of national and global importance with the top-notch experts in the field, including our faculty members, using cutting-edge technologies and state-of-the-art instruments. The mentorship they receive prepares them to join elite research corps/workforce in industry and academia,” Ramaswamy Krishnamoorthi, Prairie View A&M executive director of Research and Innovation Administration, said.

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PANTHERS INVENT — Prairie View A&M student Josiah Moore prevents defects and reduces risks in high-consequence systems in Sandia Subsystems/Components Surety Engineering department. Moore participated on the team that took second place in Panthers Invent. (Photo courtesy of Josiah Moore)

Prairie View A&M is one of Sandia’s five academic partners in the Securing Top Academic Research and Talent at Historically Black Colleges & Universities, or START HBCU, program. With Sandia, the partners inspire and develop a diverse workforce through research partnerships on critical missions.

Josiah Moore, an intern who joined Sandia as a full-time employee, solves technical challenges in Sandia’s Subsystems/Components Surety Engineering department. In his role, he prevents defects and reduces risks in high-consequence systems, allowing him to develop advanced skills and learn new tools, such as statistical software JMP, which he uses to evaluate, analyze and visualize data, and the programming language Python. Josiah said his internship presented him with networking opportunities he hadn’t imagined.

Anthony Sanders, Sandia’s Diversity Partnerships Campus Partnership manager, agreed that networking is invaluable. “The networking opportunities provided to START HBCU interns is one of the greatest nontangible benefits. Collaborating with others in your field who have different expertise or additional experience tackling certain types of technological challenges is truly life changing.”

Meetup opportunities hosted by Black/African American employee resource groups provide interns with opportunities to learn about career development programs and engage directly with members who can answer questions and offer support as they navigate their internship. In 2023, Prairie View students joined fellow START HBCU interns at poster sessions, allowing them to showcase their internship accomplishments to Sandia leadership, learn about other research opportunities at Sandia and gain feedback from industry professionals.

Creating the future through Panthers Invent

Prairie View A&M University students participating in a 48-hour, multidisciplinary, intensive design experience known as Panthers Invent know the pressure of the clock. In this annual event, student teams are presented with an engineering challenge and given a very tight deadline. In other words, it’s realistic and relatable.

Sandia sponsored the design experience, along with other industry leaders. Victoria Miles, David Baker, Jamesetta Seals, Tanzie Judge and Suzanne Moore from Sandia either mentored or supported a Panthers Invent team during the Sept. 22-24 event as they designed products to win the coveted title of “Best Innovation.”

Breanna Gallegos-Schnedar, a technical business development specialist for Sandia, said, “If teams want to design an application that outshines and outperforms the others, then critical thinking skills are essential.”

Through this methodical and “Sandialike” process, the 38 students experienced a miniaturized and accelerated version of the product realization process and gained experience using rapid prototyping tools at the university’s Fabrication Design Center. They also learned how to craft pitchlike presentations that highlight how their application meets the specifications and provides the desired outcome.

Sandia employees Chrisma Jackson, Anthony Sanders, Karen McDaniel, Mark Martin and Arnold Muyshondt — a former Sandia employee, now part of the Texas A&M system — participated as judges.

The Panthers Invent challenge serves as one of the critical pillars for the university’s Engineering School.

The START HBCU Institute webpage and Sandia START HBCU recruiter Sheila Lewis provide more information about employment and internship opportunities. Sandia Deputy Campus Partnership Manager and Prairie View alumni Suzanne Moore is also on the Prairie View A&M campus once a month to engage with students and provide additional insight through career readiness workshops and graduate school informational talks.

Recent articles by Amy Treece and Breanna Gallegos-Schnedar