Life-Health Sciences Internship Program celebrates 10 years of accomplishments

The Life-Health Sciences Internship Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has much to celebrate as it marks its 10th anniversary.

Over the last decade, the program has placed more than 500 sophomores and juniors in internships focused on health and life science fields, providing them with a critical asset when they seek employment upon graduation: experience.

Last year, 197 students applied to the program, which has funding to place 75 students into internships that begin in August and continue through the academic year. There are more than 60 internship sites available to the students.

While the program focuses on life and health sciences, students from 30 different majors have applied to the program. “We do have students who have a focus on writing or teaching. We take their majors and apply them to health and life science fields,” said Brandi Gilbert, director of the internship program.

The program was created as a retention and graduation initiative, Gilbert said.

Life-Health Sciences Internship Program

Life-Health Sciences Internship Program

“IUPUI had a lot of great retention initiatives for first-year students, and there were senior-level initiatives and experiences like capstone projects to get students through their last year, but there was a real gap for second- and third-year students,” Gilbert said. “We were created to help keep students in school during their second and third years so they could get to senior-level experiences.”

In 2006, Simon Rhodes, who was then a faculty member in the School of Medicine, and Doug Lees, a faculty member in the School of Science, sought funding and support for a retention and graduation initiative to bridge that gap. They conceived of an internship program for second- and third-year students that would leverage IUPUI’s life and health science focus, providing opportunities for students to work with faculty and staff in the campus’s graduate and professional programs.

Since then, the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program has demonstrated amazing success in retaining students.

Nearly 97 percent of the 376 students who participated as interns from the fall of 2007 through the fall of 2014 remained in school one year after their internship. That compares to a 58.8 percent retention rate for a group of 470 students who did not participate as interns.

The success of the program doesn’t stop with retention.

“These internships serve to develop students as emerging professionals and help them gain entrance to graduate and professional programs or gain employment after graduation,” Gilbert said.

Employers are looking for experience from job applicants, Gilbert explained: “It’s not enough to just have a diploma. We know from surveys that employers really are looking for proven experience.”

“A key to our program is helping students see the connection between the hands-on work and what they’re learning in the classroom, and vice versa,” Gilbert said.

Caylin Billingsley, a biology major, was drawn to the program because it offered an internship that ties closely to her educational goals. “I knew this would help me with my dream of getting into medical school one day,” she said.

“I’m more of a hands-on learner to begin with,” said Billingsley, who will work in a lab conducting osteoporosis-related research. “There’s only so much you can learn from a book. By the end of my internship, I hope to acquire different skills and knowledge as I grow and learn each day.”

Reflecting on the internship he had last year, engineering major Kade Diallo said she was fortunate to have been matched with his mentor, Dr. Lyne Racette, in the IU School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology.

“I honestly believe that it was the perfect match because I didn’t feel as if I was simply an intern but rather a part of the lab and its members,” Diallo said. “Not only that, but I also had the opportunity to earn a travel grant and fly to Seattle to present my research to the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.”