Before Dejiah Beatty started her summer internship at the University of Chicago, she shared with the selection committee her aspirations of one day becoming a neonatal surgeon. Beatty, a rising junior at Kenwood Academy high school who lives in Chicago’s Fernwood neighborhood, was placed in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) accordingly. For six weeks, she had an opportunity to dive into scientific work she’s passionate about, connect with PME scientists, and even gather data from interviews with her own friends and family to inform future PME science communications and outreach efforts.
“It’s been a great resource that’s opened up to me,” Beatty says.
Beatty is one of 10 local high school students participating in the University’s new Youth Internship Program micropilot this summer. The Youth Internship Program originally stemmed from recommendations from the Community Development Working Group — a group of more than 60 local stakeholders OCE has convened since 2019 to explore how the University can help to spur more equitable development and economic inclusion on the South Side. Developed in partnership with a working group including representatives from the Office of the President, Human Resources, and Career Advancement, the program aims to provide students like Beatty with meaningful work experience, career exploration opportunities, mentorship, and college readiness and access support. This year’s interns represent four local high schools and are interning across seven UChicago departments. The program is set to expand to at least 30 students next year, with plans to ultimately host 100 high schoolers per summer.
The internship, Beatty says, has introduced her to new scientific fields and potential career pathways and given her a unique chance to sharpen her understanding by surveying others about their perceptions about molecular science. After interviewing several friends and family members as part of one of her main projects, Beatty worked with her supervisor to design a set of best practice guidelines for how PME faculty and staff can more effectively communicate with the public when engaging them in these fields.
“I’ve been exposed to studying the different molecular engineering fields such as immunoengineering, molecular engineering, as well as materials engineering,” Beatty said. “Those are three fields I didn’t know about and fields I’m now able to educate others about.”
Laura Rico-Beck, PME assistant dean of education and outreach and Beatty’s internship supervisor, says the internship has been an opportunity for Beatty to embrace her professional passions but also to contribute to PME’s programmatic development and even help shape science education in her own community. As a participant in PME’s Teach Quantum program, for instance, Beatty was among a group of student evaluators who were asked to offer feedback to local high school teachers who have been working with PME faculty to develop curricula around the emerging quantum sciences.
“[Dejiah’s] directly informing how her physics teacher is going to plan and teach their level at their school, so that, to me, was tremendously important because she’s an integral part of the process of developing learning units for her own school,” Rico-Beck says. “We are part of the South Side community and being part of that community is really interacting actively, not just providing knowledge but learning from the neighborhood as well, and I can say without a doubt that PME had benefitted tremendously from having Dejiah with us this summer.”
Each Tuesday the Youth Internship Program participants dedicate their days to professional development activities such as learning from expert speakers in various fields about their careers or working through problem solving exercises. With Rico-Beck’s guidance, Beatty has also personally identified and connected with professors in the Biological Sciences Division, PME undergraduate students, an associate dean, and an associate director in UChicago GRAD’s Career Development office, among others to discuss their career paths and how she can work toward her goal of becoming a surgeon.
“I’ve been shown how to build these relationships — sending emails and meeting people who are in my field or people who could help me get to my field — and advocate for myself in a genuine way and that’s been very valuable and rewarding for my development and my career,” Beatty says.
Those aspects of the internship have helped Beatty improve her communication skills, she says, and strengthen her network, as well as her resume and her confidence:
“My biggest takeaway has been that I’m able to accomplish a lot that I put my mind to.”