Internships that widen students' horizons

Companies like Shell and NASA are offering high school, college students opportunities of a lifetime

Chances are, your notions of internships are bleak.


Coffee, copy making and errand running come to mind as the usual, menial tasks of the corporate intern of yesteryears. If only the coffee were served on an oil rig or in zero gravity.

For a couple of Juneau students, high-flying exploration and corporate strategy are just some of the few skills they’re garnering during their internships with organizations such as Shell and NASA.

As part of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska, Angelina Biggness, 18, had the opportunity to work at Shell in the Contingency Response Group.

“We got to work on the business contingency plan, the plan that’s set in place in case of a major earthquake or disaster,” Biggness said. “That was really interesting.”

Bigness graduated from Thunder Mountain High School this spring and has already completed a year of college credits during her time with ANSEP.

This summer, she is one of 27 Alaskans working in science, technology, and engineering or math fields while pursuing credits toward a college degree.

“The Summer Bridge is a nine-week program where we get students right out of high school, getting ready to transition into college,” Michael Bourdukofsky, COO for ANSEP, said.

Bourdukofsky said the numbers they saw this year were the highest to date.

“That’s probably the most we ever had,” he said. “These students are working with about a dozen or so different companies or agencies.”

Shell is one of the organizations hosting a group of Summer Bridge interns this year.

“[Biggness] was assigned to Shell Exploration and Production in our emergency response staff,” said superintendent of emergency response for Shell, Geoff Merrell.

“Her responsibilities were to indoctrinate herself into the wild world of a large international oil and gas company. There’s the business aspect of working in an office environment. Then there’s the cultural aspect of how the various organizations interact.”

From there, Biggness delved into emergency strategy and planning for such disasters as oil spills.

“I learned how an oil company works and the huge safety culture here, which was really interesting because I never knew anything about an oil company before,” Biggness said. “I got to tour the contingency response facility, and I got to go there and talk with people who actually operate the machines and who maintained them and those machines can be ready in an hour if they needed to be sent anywhere.”

Bigness hopes to study civil engineering and after that hopes to get into architecture.

Transition from a small city like Juneau to Anchorage, where she is working with Shell, was a big step.

“I think the takeaway is that even though Juneau is relatively small or isolated, there’s no reason why students in Juneau can’t adapt with ease to a big corporation like they are,” Merrell said. “I think that Angelina was strong evidence of that.”

From an office at the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., Joshua Brewster, 19, said he found transition into the internship, and a larger city, wasn’t all that difficult.

“It’s nothing like Juneau,” Brewster said. “I’m not inexperienced with other places in the U.S., but it was a bit of a culture shock. People definitely have different ideals here than a small community like Juneau.”

Although not part of ANSEP, Brewster, an Aerospace Education Research and Operations associate, found the opportunity at NASA by searching the Internet.

Of all the work he’s done while there, Brewster is currently working with former astronaut Lee Archambault of Sierra Nevada Corporation and helping adjust a simulator for the Dream Chaser project.

“I’m just trying to help work out the kinks in physics and programming,” he said. “It’s used to train the pilots for the scenarios that they want to do.”

The Dream Chaser is the only lifting body vehicle funded under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. A similar program was completed for the iconic Space Shuttle in 1977 at NASA Dryden.

Brewster is also working with NASA’s C20-A, a former military Gulfstream III jet that has been modified to perform environmental science missions. The jet conducts Earth sciences research, and studies volcanoes and other geologic phenomena. He is also assigned to the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy program.

“His primary task is the Dream Chaser. It’s a commercial crew spacecraft developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation,” said Program Chief Engineer Stephen Jensen of SOFIA at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. “He’s helping them develop the simulation for that.”

Also a graduate of Thunder Mountain High School, Brewster is completing a yearlong pre-engineering program at University of Alaska Southeast and hopes to transfer to California Polytechnic State University for its aerospace program.

“This is opening all sorts of doors for me,” Brewster said, “most of which I have no idea about yet.”

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at


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