Pilot City Interns Help Improve ABPDU Processes

Since 2021, ABPDU has hosted six high school student interns as part of the Pilot City internship program, which pairs Bay Area students with internship opportunities. The interns have worked on solving partner onboarding challenges and automating everyday ABPDU workflows.    

The interns have primarily worked remotely on various coding projects. Their main task was to improve ABPDU’s process for onboarding new collaborators and documenting collaboration progress.

“At our direction, they built a workflow that automatically creates folders and files to keep track of information,” said James Gardner, a program manager at ABPDU who mentored the interns. “This will really help us focus more on the relationships in these collaborations and less on the mechanics.” 

Program Manager James Gardner, interns Tyler Pham and Sanjana Rathore, and Postdoctoral Fellow Onyinye Okonkwo.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was finding a reliable way to host the automation coding on a cloud server. 

“It was imperative that we find a way to properly host the code since without it, we wouldn’t be able to make use of the team’s efforts,” said intern Tyler Pham, now a freshman at Santa Clara University. “We tried many methods, but some proved too hard to debug or far too complex to be practical. We were stuck and in need of help.”

The team enlisted the help of Mark Kulawik, an IT Manager at Berkeley Lab, who walked the team through their hosting options. Eventually, they were able to find a reliable solution. 

“The fact that we were able to find a solution spoke to Mark’s perseverance and the team’s resilience,” Pham said. “The joy I felt when we professionally hosted the scripts for the first time was immense. I can’t express my gratitude enough for the generosity of Mark and the rest of the Berkeley Lab staff.” 

Intern Tyler Pham, Project Scientist Kristen Hunter-Cavera, and intern Sanjana Rathore.

Intern Sanjana Rathore, a senior at Mission San Jose High School, said the internship has given her a glimpse of what her future career could look like.

“Not only did I improve my coding skills, but it helped me understand what it’s like to be on a team and execute on deliverables,” she said. “If it weren’t for this internship, I wouldn’t be as confident in wanting to pursue a degree in computer science in college. This experience confirmed to me that this is something I like to do, I like problem solving.” 

Last summer, the interns also had the opportunity to work in the ABPDU lab on a bioengineered yeast that produces jet fuel. 

Intern Sanjana Rathore setting up a flower well plate to run a BioLector experiment.

“Our work involved fine-tuning the growth conditions to optimize the growth of our microbe while maximizing the production of the jet-fuel,” Rathore said. “It was my first time working in a lab, and it was cool to see all our interdisciplinary work coming together.”  

During their work at the bench, the interns were introduced to the potential of using microbiology and chemical engineering to solve critical global problems, such as carbon-negative energy, materials, chemical production, and agricultural applications.

For intern Rohan Adwankar, a senior at Irvington High School, his experience at ABPDU has broadened his perspective on what his skills can be applied to.

“I liked being able to work in an important area of research,” he said. “It showed me that computer science can be used as a force for good.”