MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University students in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences applied their classroom knowledge to the real world this summer through the University’s Test Drive a Racer internship program.

The Test Drive a Racer program provides internship opportunities at Kentucky firms or agencies for outstanding juniors or seniors in STEM fields. The Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Murray State provides intern salary reimbursements and creates lasting relationships with those organizations, all while the interns gain practical skill development.

“The paid internships give students the access that many may not be able to have if they have to work other jobs to support themselves financially,” said Dr. Robin Zhang, chair for the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Murray State. “It also gives partner organizations the incentive to hire Murray State interns.”

Zhang helped place several students in summer internships through Murray State’s Test Drive a Racer program. Murray State students Tanner Dutton of Rosiclare, Illinois, and Monika Staszczak of Warsaw, Poland, interned with the Hopkinsville Public Works Complex, while Austin Johnessee of Edwardsville, Illinois, interned with the McCracken County Road Department in Paducah.

Johnessee spent his summer internship updating mapping databases and working on subdividing properties with sign types, placements and standards with the McCracken County Road Department in Paducah.

Austin Johnessee stands in front of a building that says "Emergency Operations Center."
Austin Johnessee of Edwardsville, Illinois, completed a summer internship with the McCracken County Road Department in Paducah.

“I was interested in this internship because road departments make heavy use of geographic information science (GIS), not only [to maintain] the roads themselves but everything associated with making sure they stay safe for drivers,” Johnesse explained. “The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences has a focus on practical work, giving me not only the information but also the practice to succeed in the work I’m doing.”

Dutton and Staszczak’s daily tasks with the Hopkinsville Public Works Complex involved entering data from Riverside Cemetery into geodatabase software, fixing and creating shapefiles for the cemetery, reviewing legal documents associated with the cemetery and checking cemetery books to confirm grave locations.

“[We] came into the project at the start, so [we were] able to be there from the ground up to see how different situations and problems are handled,” Dutton said.

Each student took on roles and extracurricular opportunities inside their academic field at Murray State before pursuing these internships.

Johnesse found that his elective computer programming courses, in particular, became useful while working in the mapping database. Dutton, meanwhile, served as president of the Murray State chapter of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Staszczak also worked on research with assistant professor Dr. Bassil El Masri in addition to being a member of the Murray State Geoclub and a student worker in the earth and environmental sciences department.

An unofficial headshot of Monika Staszczak.
Monika Staszczak of Warsaw, Poland, completed a summer internship with the Hopkinsville Public Works Complex in Hopkinsville.

“[The] Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences] faculty will go out of their way to ensure that every one of us is getting the most out of our education,” Staszczak said. “Dr. Zhang worked really hard to make sure that all of the students in our department that were interested were able to complete a summer internship.”

Staszczak added that Zhang helped through every step of the hiring process: offering assistance with résumés and cover letters in addition to communicating with the companies to make sure everything went smoothly.

“For the students, I hope they learn on-the-job skills, build professional connections and networks, have secured a few good references and become more confident that their learning and their chosen profession are applicable and beneficial to society,” Zhang said. “For the organization, I hope they have found the value of Racers, will continue to support our students, help build the professional networks and connections the students would need and help recruit more students into our programs.”

“I can see that I am a different person than who I was beginning of my freshman year,” Staszczak added. “The adult world doesn’t seem as terrifying as it did three years ago.”

Visit https://bit.ly/2MvHDEs for more information about opportunities through the Test Drive a Racer internship program.

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