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Internship program pairs Maryland students with businesses

ANNAPOLIS — Professional researcher Andrew Murphy can hardly contain himself when talking about the team of employees he has working for him this summer.

“I hope you don’t mind if I get a little excited about this,” said Murphy, owner of Odenton-based Keystone Research Solutions, a scientific research and development company.

He launched into a vivid description of the research his group is doing – on variable star astronomy – which he hopes will land Keystone in a prestigious scientific journal.

“I’m treating them like a research team of grad students,” Murphy said.

But researchers Branden Gritz, Alexander Perepechko and Javan Graham will all be seniors at North County High School. The trio are students in the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math magnet program. They’re working for Murphy this summer as part of a joint effort between county schools and local businesses to bolster students in the so-called STEM fields.

The program puts students in the STEM programs at North County and South River High in unpaid internships, a requirement for STEM students. Earlier this summer, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. contacted nearly 1,000 businesses in the technology, engineering and scientific field and asked them to consider the program. So far, the schools have matched 47 interns with area companies.

Students say the program gives them valuable work experience, and businesses say the young workers bring tech savvy and fresh eyes to projects.

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Thomas Quinn, a rising senior at South River High School, has spent the last month helping to coordinate programs at the center for other STEM students.

STEM students, he explained, are required to take a summer “bridge” course before entering their sophomore and junior years. Thomas, who wants to be an electrical engineer, helped with the material for last month’s class at the center and also worked with the students.

In addition, Thomas worked on developing cellphone apps for the center, which would allow visitors to walk the trails behind the complex and learn the names of the flora and fauna growing there. He also set up a blog for the center.

“I’ve definitely had a lot to do,” said Thomas, who logged about 40 hours each week at the center.

Mark Haddon, the center’s director of education, said he felt “a great piece of mind” when Thomas came on as an intern.

“He shows initiative, and he brings a very good perspective because he sees things through a younger person’s eyes,” Haddon said. “That kind of perspective is something we greatly need, especially when it comes to multimedia and social media.”

And it’s great practice for Thomas, who decided on his future career path in ninth grade.

“It really relates to the way I think,” he said of engineering. “I think three steps ahead. I analyze too much.”

Murphy said his interns’ ultimate goal is to publish their research in an industry journal.

“If they can achieve that, it’s a little feather in the cap of the company, as well as the research team – that’s a double bonus right there,” Murphy said. “And they get the work experience, whether the paper gets accepted or not.”

Branden Gritz, one of the North County seniors working at Keystone, is an aspiring aerospace engineer. So his internship is a perfect fit, he said.

“It gives you real world experience,” he said.

The gig is supposed to end after 120 hours, but he said he and his young colleagues are getting so much out of it that they’d like to extend the internship through the fall.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Branden said. “Since we’re doing research, we’re working from home, keeping track of our own hours and being our own bosses.”