VSU President envisions interns and gets them

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Bulldozers and track hoes continue their work demolishing several rows of houses in Ettrick. This work will make room for a huge expansion for Virginia State University (VSU) and will bring revitalization to the Chesterfield Avenue corridor. Academically, the school is growing as well. Internships for upperclassmen are growing. A new paid internship program, which marries the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science with Honeywell, will be a symbiotic relationship that is advantageous to both entities.

Internships stem from the vision of VSU President Dr. Keith T. Miller. Dr. Krishan Agrawal said, “Students have to have some work experience during the academic year to really come out of the classroom and see how these critical concepts, which I discuss in the classroom, are connected in an actual environment.”

Students A.J. Conklin, a senior; Denzel Harris, a junior; and William Hayes, recently transferred from Old Dominion University, have been working to create a database to connect many of the somewhat separate computer systems at the Colonial Heights (Walthall) Honeywell plant, which has been at that particular location since 1966.

The plant, which focuses on high tinsel strength fibers, was called on by Dr. Agrawal, just a few months ago, and asked to create an internship program. Dr. Ronnie Moore, with Honeywell was agreeable and the program that could last at least four years began.

The students have visited the Honeywell plant several times but perform the database work on computers in the lab at VSU. Dr. Moore stays busy collecting information on both sides, via zip drive, to create key words to make it easier for employees to find the information they need.

“We had to go into each file and using a list of key words he [Dr. Moore] gave us, had to classify each file using those key words,” Harris said.

Conklin said, “We visited there [Honeywell] about four times; three times at Walthall and another time at Pre-Con [in Petersburg].” The internship was not just fun and games.  “It was educational, we were not familiar with Microsoft Access and had to take a couple of days and learn the program first and the certain features so it was definitely educational.”

The students had to submit a resume to Honeywell just as in a real world job search. Dr. Moore went to VSU, who is a fiber and polymer scientist, and interviewed five candidates.

“I selected the two that I thought would be a good fit for the project that I came up with,” Moore said. “To use their skills in math and computer science to help us organize of database in a way we could search it and find the information we need faster.” Hayes came in later as a transfer student.

The internship was treated as if it were a business situation right down to the clothes they wore. “We were placed into a business atmosphere and we thought there’s too many meetings going on, but every time we went to a meeting we learned something,” Harris said

Conklin plans to enter graduate school next year. Harris said he would wait a couple of years and work to finance his grad school. Hayes has been shadowing Conklin and Harris so he will be better acquainted with the program when he starts in earnest next year.

“Virginia State is trying to incorporate an undergraduate research component in a big way and some home-generated programs so A.J. and Denzel will be working on another project,” Agrawal said. “They are really getting tons of experience because they have this [home] project and they have the Honeywell project. They are just some of those lucky guys.”

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