COD Students Participate in Prestigious Internships

Biophysics Internships Icon

By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage students Sam Liesman and Colton Eakins are gaining invaluable real-world experiences while serving biophysics internships at the prestigious Illinois Institute of Technology this summer.

Bolingbrook resident and COD Presidential Scholarship recipient Liesman is currently earning his Associate in Science degree at COD, after which he plans to transfer to a four-year university, earn his bachelor’s degree and eventually work as an engineer.

“Through this internship, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of what it actually means to be a bioengineer,” Liesman said.

During the internship, Liesman will study the movements of “pili,” long, hair-like structures that cover the surface of bacteria and are used to attach to cells and infect their hosts. He said internships and research opportunities such as this one provide a testing ground for students who are undecided about their education and future careers.

“Internships such as this one are really beneficial for students,” Liesman said. “They allow us to explore professions without making a lifetime commitment. It can really save someone a lot of time and money if they learn early on that their chosen profession isn’t really what they want to do.”

A College of DuPage Presidential Scholarship recipient, Eakins said that he will be the first member of his family to earn a college degree and he is thrilled with the opportunity to serve the internship at IIT.

“This is huge for me,” he said. “I’m so thankful for the faculty and support staff as well as the resources and opportunities available at COD that have helped me get to this point.”

Eakins, who will be performing computer simulations on a collection of protein and DNA molecules during his internship, said that while the learning gained in the classroom is important, there are several crucial benefits to internship programs that cannot be taught in a classroom.

“There’s nothing that can match actually experiencing the work,” Eakins said. “This opportunity will provide a real view of what it’s like to work in research. Also, networking with experienced graduate students and speaking with experts in the field is really a privilege.”

Eakins said the latter is particularly important because working alongside experts will give him valuable insights and will make the research more compelling. The bioengineering student hopes to use this summer’s internship experience to springboard into a rewarding scientific career.

Eakins was impressed with COD’s campus after a visit to the College while he was in high school. Through a program initiated by the College’s Curriculum Alignment Committee, the Lombard resident visited the College as a high school junior and took the COMPASS placement test. He said while he was impressed with the campus during that first visit, it has been his experiences as a student of the College that have really made a difference in his life.

“What’s important is not what made me choose COD; it’s what made me choose to stay,” Eakins said. “The faculty, support staff and all the opportunities and resources here have more than validated that I made the right choice.”

The students will be working as a part of IIT Professor Dr. Jeff Wereszczynski’s research group at IIT. The internship came about from a discussion between COD Professors Dr. Tom Carter, Physics; Dr. Kathy Finan, Biology; and Dr. Wereszczynski regarding the problem of providing research opportunities for students.

“I offered the facilities of my biophysics research team and a partnership was born,” Wereszczynski said.

To help prepare Eakins and Liesman for the internship, Finan worked with the students to cover to the biological component of the work, helping them to understand technical documents resulting from Wereszczynski’s research group. Carter helped with the computer element, providing basic training on the UNIX computer operating system, the Python programming language and Visual Molecular Dynamics software.  

Wereszczynski said research opportunities such as this one are vital for science students as they continue their education and prepare for their careers.

“Classwork provides a wealth of information and experiences to students as they prepare for their careers; however, it can be difficult for students to connect what they are learning to cutting-edge scientific discovery,” Wereszczynski said. “Working in a research lab helps students better understand how modern scientific research is performed and how the topics they are learning about in their classes connect with one another to form a foundation for modern research. It also lets them experience firsthand the true scientific process of discovery, and to appreciate the excitement and challenges that go along with this process.”

Wereszczynski said the students will also have an opportunity to apply coursework they have learned to the study of unsolved real-life problems in biophysics and gain crucial multidisciplinary experience.

“One of the exciting parts about biophysics is that it’s truly an interdisciplinary field,” Wereszczynski said. “Even at the graduate level no student ever comes in fully prepared because the work that we do draws on information that is taught in physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and math courses. This can be a great opportunity to make connections between disciplines and also to become exposed to material they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.”

Click here for more information about the Physics program at College of DuPage.