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Sep 28
One Country, Two Internships, Countless Experiences

DAAD photo.jpgEvery year, Rebecca Ward, the program manager for Eminence Fellows, suggests programs like DAAD RISE to her students. DAAD stands for Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, or German Academic Exchange Service, while RISE stands for Research Internships in Science and Engineering. "Students are encouraged to think broadly about what to do with their summers," says Ward. DAAD RISE provides an opportunity for STEM students who have completed at lea​st two years of their degree to work on an existing research project at a German university for the summer. They are matched with doctoral student mentors and are provided with a stipend to help with living expenses. Internships are offered in fields including biology, chemistry, earth science, engineering, and physics. "It's amazing because it allows them to network with other individuals from across the world while working in Germany on a specific project," Ward explains.

Only about one in three students who apply are accepted, but Ward encourages students to give it a try even if they do not feel confident about being chosen. This past summer was the first time two of her Eminence Fellows participated in the program at the same time, although they stayed in different cities and worked on different projects.

One of those students was Michael Lee, a fourth year in mechanical engineering from Brecksville, Ohio. The other was Caroline Jipa, a third year in physics from Columbus. Ward remarks, "They're both extremely focused individuals." She adds that they have both been heavily involved with undergraduate research since freshman year, another quality that made them great candidates for DAAD RISE.

Lee chose OSU for the "massive number of projects, resources, corporate partnerships, and experts in every field that can be found here." He has certainly taken advantage of many opportunities and believes that the Eminence Fellows program has helped him focus on the things he wants to accomplish. The program has also contributed to his friendships and his research. One of his favorite events was the Eminence First Year Retreat. He was also grateful to be involved with Best Food Forward, a food co-op on campus that originally began as an Eminence cohort project but has now grown into a large organization of its own. According to Ward, "I can always count on Michael to contribute in such unique ways to discussions. He's a very deep and creative thinker." Lee found out about the DAAD RISE internship opportunity through Eminence.

Lee was placed at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern. "My project was an investigation of the properties of samples fabricated using cold spray, a technology used to coat a metal substrate with microscale metal powder in order to change the surface characteristics," he explains. A PhD student from the lab mentored him but he had a lot of independence. "For the most part, I worked alone to fabricate samples, make improvements to the system, and take images for analysis."

He would usually get to the lab around 8:30 and spend the first part of the morning making any necessary changes to the code and hardware. Next, he would prepare a sample and make sure the substrate would be sprayed at the correct temperature and speed and in the correct pattern. He would then use a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) to take images of the sample and determine how well the particles fused to the substrate. He was used to working with numbers and images in the lab back home, but this experience taught him more about working with hardware. He also learned quite a bit about filling out German paperwork as he matriculated into the university and signed a lease agreement using the little bit of German language knowledge he possessed.

A less stressful but equally new experience was the laid-back atmosphere of higher education in Germany. "At least once a week, our lab got together to barbecue and drink some beers," he says. "Seeing cases of beer in the lab and machine shop was a big surprise."

Because German universities tend to be less strict about leisure time than American universities, Lee was often able to take Fridays off from the lab and travel. He spent some time in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Frankfurt. Outside of Germany, he made it to London, Paris, and Edinburgh.

His favorite part of the summer was hanging out with the German students and other RISE students. He spent his twenty-first birthday celebrating with them at a wine fest organized by the university. And what's a birthday without a little cake, you ask? Rest assured; Lee spent quite a bit of his summer on a quest for the perfect Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a German version of what Americans call black forest cake.  He explains, "I found a cafe that made them, and I had a piece, and it was great." Naturally, the only thing better than ice cream to go with a cake is ice cream that looks almost exactly like a bowl of spaghetti. "I was also a big fan of Spaghettieis," says Lee. It is a German dish made of vanilla ice cream put through a spätzle press and served with whipped cream, strawberry sauce, and either coconut flakes, grated almonds, or white chocolate shavings. It is meant to look like spaghetti topped with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. Lee insists that you can't get quality Spaghettieis just anywhere. "In my experience, if an Eiscafe has a special press behind the counter to make it, then it will be pretty good."

Whether he is in the U.S. or abroad, Lee enjoys hobbies such as building models, baking, and reading; his favorite author is Thomas Pynchon.  In addition to Eminence, he is involved with several clubs at OSU including a chapter of the American Foundry Society

Lee hopes to travel more and is thinking about South Korea as a potential next destination. He had already been to Liberia, Costa Rica, and Scotland prior to last summer and, thanks to RISE, can add Germany, England, and France to the list. At the end of his internship, the professors he worked with at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern encouraged him to consider graduate school there, offering to help him navigate the application process. "So who knows?" he says. "I might even go back to Germany at some point."

While Lee was hard at work in his lab, Caroline Jipa was across the country in Berlin. DAAD RISE was her second experience studying abroad; she had taken a health policy course for one month in Denmark during the previous summer. She had also been to Romania to visit her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Jipa studies physics and has minors in chemistry and linguistics. She has been interested in research since high school and believes that physics teaches her problem-solving skills that will be applicable in any career. Her experience in the lab will be especially relevant if she follows her current plan to get an MD/PhD and become an academic physician-scientist. She chose to attend Ohio State because of the strong physics program and the opportunity to be part of the Eminence Fellows Program— though perhaps the Buckeye-themed wallpaper in one of the rooms of her childhood home played some subconscious role in her decision as well.

On her walks to class, Jipa has always appreciated a solid playlist; she enjoys any genre of music. Similarly, she enjoys almost any genre of movie, the only exception being horror films. Her current favorite movie is Your Name, but her enthusiasm about film means her favorites are always subject to change. She has also been a Pokémon trainer since childhood. If one thing is certain, it is that even the most high-powered Drowzee has not managed to eat her dreams.

Ward describes Jipa as highly involved in the Eminence Fellows program. She has helped plan events and previously served on the Symposium committee. Jipa says, "Both when beginning college and throughout the years, it has been beneficial both socially and academically to have a small group of students with diverse majors and backgrounds but who shared the drive to achieve a lot in their field." She has also benefited from resources such as her advisor, networking events, funding for student projects, and service opportunities. Through Eminence, she and her cohort developed a service project called Enlighten, about which the goal is to fight human trafficking through awareness, outreach, and legal advocacy.

In addition to attending (and planning) countless Eminence events, Jipa has been doing research since freshman year. She works with Professor Poirer in the physics department and even received a fellowship from the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry to stay on campus last summer and continue working in the lab. Jipa's lab studies Reb1, which is a transcription factor in yeast. "Reb1 is a really cool protein because unlike normal transcription factors, it has similar affinity to nucleosomes and DNA," she explains. "This activity suggests Reb1 is a nucleosome displacing factor, which helps with the arrangement of nucleosomes. As nucleosomes prevent transcription, Reb1 controls gene expression at a very fundamental level." She adds that studying Reb1 could help researchers learn more about the early stages of gene activation.

In the spring, Jipa found out she was selected for the DAAD RISE program and was matched with Ewers Lab at Freie Universitat Berlin. Her main responsibility was fixing a Super Resolution Microscope so it could be used to take images of cellular structures through a process called STORM (stochastic optical reconstruction microscropy). She arrived at the lab each morning around 9 or 10 and spent the majority of her time working on three different optical setups or running analysis on a computer. There was a lot of trial-and-error involved. "Aligning the lasers would consist of me turning on the laser and turning off the lights and adjusting the mirror and other optical components with the knobs on the side or sliding them slightly until it went in the straight path I wanted," she explains. "Other parts were more technical, where I unscrewed, moved, and reattached parts, or more electronic where I connected equipment to the computer and installed drivers and controls through micromanager."

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the members of her lab would meet for Journal Club, where they discussed recent articles that were relevant to their field. They also had regular group meetings to update each other on their progress. She noticed that the labs in Germany were bigger than typical American labs; hers had over twenty people as well as three microscope rooms, two biochemistry lab spaces, a cell culture room, and a social room. The researchers would usually eat lunch together at the Mensa (a university cafeteria) and often held celebrations at the lab, sometimes involving barbecues and cake. Occasionally, they saw movies or went out to restaurants and bars together in the evening.

When she wasn't hanging out with the other members of her lab, Jipa had weekends free. This gave her time to go sightseeing in Berlin, explore other German cities (including Dresden, Heidelberg, and Leipzig), and fly to other countries within Europe (including Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Greece).

"Of course there were sights of historical importance I enjoyed, like the Berlin wall, Fehrsehenturm, and Brandenburg Gate, but there was also just simple stuff like visiting the lakes, walking through the park, or watching World Cup games and movies with fellow lab-mates," says Jipa. "Probably the most interesting place I traveled to was Samos in Greece, where I stayed with some family friends in a cute village by the edge of the sea."

The highlight, however, was her time in the lab. It was her first time working with a complex microscopy set-up and by the end of her internship she had gotten it to work. She felt proud knowing that the fixed microscope would allow other researchers to continue groundbreaking projects.

Jipa agrees with Lee that the most difficult part of that summer was the paperwork. "I had to open a German bank account to get my paycheck, register as a resident of Berlin, find a place to stay—which is quite hard for short term leases and expensive in Berlin—and get a student metro pass," she explains. Having lived in the dorms for her first two years of college, she was also used to the convenience of meal plans and now had to grocery shop and cook regularly for the first time.

Not every day, though. After all, it would be foolish to spend a summer in Germany without trying any of their authentic dishes. Jipa's personal favorite was the Döner, which was first created by Turkish immigrants in Berlin. She describes it as similar to a gyro, with shaved meat and cooked vegetables on bread. According to Jipa, Döner kebab shops are ubiquitous in the city. "If you're ever in Berlin, eating a Döner is a must."

Both Lee and Jipa are grateful to the Eminence Fellows Program for helping them connect with the RISE program and providing them with invaluable academic and social experiences to help them prepare for their future endeavors. Though their internships were across the country from one another, they both had a chance to conduct impactful research in their specific areas of interest, befriend fellow researchers, explore other cities, see German culture firsthand, and track down some delicious local foods.  ​

By Christina Szuch, Honors & Scholars Writer