Brenda Delgadillo Moreno felt she couldn’t afford to work as an unpaid intern while an undergraduate student at Cal State University East Bay (CSUEB)–as much as she knew it would help her future science career. Then last spring she was juggling full-time administrative work in the university registrar’s office with starting her master’s program in environmental geosciences when CSUEB professor Jean Moran urged her to consider a new internship opportunity with Berkeley Lab.
A Hayward native and first-generation American, Delgadillo Moreno is now among the second cohort of CSUEB graduate students to participate in a Berkeley Lab internship program, which brings talented master’s-level students from the nation’s fifth most diverse university–and California’s most diverse university–to work on research projects at Berkeley Lab.
“For financial reasons, I wasn’t able to attempt an internship as an undergraduate student, so for me this experience has made such a huge difference in my life–helping me to bridge the gap I was missing between school work and the professional world,” said Delgadillo Moreno, who is the first in her family to attend college and now graduate school. “I’ve gained the confidence to conduct independent research and am beginning to better understand the amount of work–and different types of activities–that go into a project.”
Back in 2017, Susan Hubbard, Associate Laboratory Director for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, discussed the concept of a Berkeley Lab-CSUEB internship collaboration with Horst Simon. The Berkeley Lab Deputy Director for Research fully encouraged and supported the idea as a way for Berkeley Lab to enhance the STEM pipeline and positively influence the lives of early career scholars. Simon and Hubbard worked together, with the input and involvement of CSUEB professor and environmental geochemist Ruth Tinnacher, to establish a CSUEB-Berkeley Lab internship program, which is now starting its third year,
“Working with local institutions like CSUEB is very important for Berkeley Lab,” Simon said. “We need to strengthen our pipeline in STEM, and local institutions allow us to tap into the diversity of talent in the Bay Area. A presence and collaboration with CSUEB gives us both more local visibility and recognition, as well as highly talented future employees.”
Simon and Hubbard felt it important to establish a framework that leads to strong partnerships between Berkeley Lab scientists and faculty from California institutions having diverse student populations, and to offer opportunities for master’s-level students to experience research at Berkeley Lab. They also saw the program as an opportunity to enhance diverse STEM pipelines for Berkeley Lab.
“Deputy Simon and I discussed the potential for these internships to help develop a next generation of scientists as well as foster a network of collaboration between local science innovators. Our hope is that the internship will seed longer-term collaborations between the two institutions to focus on scientific challenges critical for California and beyond,” Hubbard said.
In just two short years, the interns have been able to make a real impact through their own research projects that are aligned with that of Berkeley Lab scientists. During year one of the program beginning in June 2018, their projects focused on how tidal effects lead to changes in the exchange of carbon dioxide and methane in restored tidal marshes in the Bay Area; on identification and analysis of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing in California; and on soil-plant microbiome interactions with a particular focus on phosphorous cycling.
This year, Delgadillo Moreno is studying how interactions between surface water and groundwater impact two Bay Area creeks, one on the Albany/Berkeley line and another in the Hayward/Castro Valley area. Both creeks are associated with a groundwater sustainability management plan being developed locally in compliance with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which is a recent law requiring that local leaders balance groundwater demand and supplies for the first time. Brenda’s fellow intern Thomas Fenster has been working to help build and deploy a flux tower to measure the exchange of gasses between ecosystem and atmosphere in Concord, California. The tower is part of the AmeriFlux Network.
Bill Quirk has represented the 20th Assembly District, which includes Hayward, to California’s state legislature since 2012. Assemblymember Quirk formerly worked as a climate research scientist at NASA and later at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and taught physics at CalTech and UCDavis. Education and environmental safety and equality are among his signature issues.
“As a former climate research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, I know first-hand the type of real-world exposure these students are getting in the lab is invaluable,” Assemblymember Quirk said. “This program not only provides these talented students the opportunity to make a difference by sharing their knowledge and ideas, but it allows them to present real-life solutions to real-life problems. I am thrilled this partnership exists between CSUEB and Berkeley Lab, and that we are preparing the next generation of scientists.”
Professor Tinnacher credits the new internship program with changing the course of students’ lives.
“One of my biggest challenges is showing our students that you can actually make a living doing scientific research. About 60% of our students are the first in their families to go to college. More than 40% come from low-income backgrounds, qualifying for federal Pell grants,” Tinnacher said.
“In general no one in their families has been employed in the sciences. Many students are first-generation Americans who typically are expected to become doctors or lawyers, careers well-known for their prestige. One of my biggest joys is showing the interns participating in this collaboration between our two institutions that there is a path forward towards professional work in the sciences,” Tinnacher said.
Once students are accepted into the program after a competitive selection process, they begin working with their Berkeley Lab project mentors and faculty advisors to implement their proposed projects.
Michelle Newcomer, Delgadillo Moreno’s mentor at Berkeley Lab, said that over the months she has seen Brenda rise to various challenges beyond her scientific quests, be it tackling regulatory requirements for conducting field work, or engaging with the SGMA community at stakeholder meetings. Giving students the opportunity to own the direction of their projects is a unique model for an internship, according to Newcomer.
“Typically an intern is brought on to a project to help carry out a faculty advisor or PI’s research,” she said. “This model is entirely different, and I think it allows students to flourish, while at the same time establishing strong connections between Berkeley Lab and CSUEB. I’m not asking Brenda what to do to conduct research that I am already working on. This is Brenda’s project, and I’m helping facilitate her learning.”
Delgadillo Moreno, like some previous interns, is focusing her master’s thesis on her internship project. Her faculty advisor, Jean Moran, has gotten to know many Berkeley Lab research scientists through this internship program, including Michelle Newcomer, Peter Nico, and Preston Jordan.
“I think the students have really benefited from learning from world-class scientists, of course, but also from scientists who represent such different disciplines,” Moran said. Newcomer, for example, is a hydrologist, and Jordan brings an engineering perspective. Moran and other CSUEB advisors also credit the program for exposing students to the resource-rich environment that exists at Berkeley Lab, including large user facilities and state-of-the-art laboratory and field capabilities.
“It can be intimidating, I would imagine, for the students to work with so many accomplished scientists. But in my experience, the mentors have been so generous with their expertise,” Moran said. “Brenda’s project essentially has her working out in the rain, trying to ‘catch’ stormwater runoff. Berkeley Lab’s Preston Jordan has been known to show up at the creeks on rainy days to help Brenda out too.”
For Jennie Bahramian, who started her graduate studies at CSUEB in winter 2017, her internship brought her understanding of what is going on in the scientific world to a new level.
Working with faculty advisor Patty Oikawa, and Berkeley Lab research scientist Housen Chu on another project for the AmeriFlux Management Project, the student deployed gas sensors at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in 2018 to track carbon stored in revived salt marsh at the East Bay coastal renovation site.
“Graduate school is typically all about going to classes and taking exams. Coming to Berkeley Lab and being around scientists like my mentor Housen Chu, Sebastien Biraud, and Margaret Torn really opened my eyes to what it’s actually like to work as a scientist,” Bahramian said.
“I learned about the responsibilities that come with their jobs, including time management, and resource management, “ she said. “I learned how they gather data and how they process that data.”
Bahramian participated in the first cohort of interns from June 2018 to 2019. She was accompanied by fellow interns Anna Hill, who worked with mentors Ji Yeon Lee and Will Stringfellow on a research project focused on identification and analysis of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing in California; and Nydra Harvey-Costello, whose project focused on soil-plant microbiome interactions with a particular emphasis on phosphorous cycling.
Harvey-Costello hadn’t yet completed her first year of graduate school and had never completed an internship when she applied to the Berkeley Lab-CSUEB internship program. Working under the direction of EESA scientists Patricia Fox and Peter Nico, she spent a lot of time in the laboratory carrying out a variety of chemical extractions from floodplain sediments of the East River Watershed in Colorado.
“This opportunity was a pivotal moment for my growth and journey through graduate school. Having the opportunity to network and work with scientists at a national laboratory so early in my career was a good enough incentive to pursue the internship.”
The application period for the third cohort program opens in March, with an application deadline of April 13. After a competitive review, interns who are accepted to the program will work closely with their Berkeley Lab and CSUEB advisor to accomplish their research objectives over a year, including full-time summer research and part-time effort during the academic year. Berkeley Lab hopes that the yearlong internship has a lifelong impact. Learn more about the application process here.