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Getting paid to learn for the summer

  • (Quinn Pieper/Argus-Courier Intern) Casa Grande High School senior Priscilla Ng inputs data for research she's conducting in the kinestology department at Sonoma State University.

For most Petaluma students, the classroom becomes a fuzzy memory when the dog days of summer roll around. But a handful of Casa Grande High School students are bucking that trend by dedicating their free months as interns at Sonoma State University. In addition to furthering their education, students get the added bonus of taking home a paycheck for their work.

Priscilla Ng and Henry Steiner are two of the 15 high school students working for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program, collecting data in the lab and studying human subjects in their selected fields.

They faced fierce competition for their internship — likely because of the paycheck the position commands — and only 15 out of 80 applicants were hired. Nearly as rigorous as a fulltime job, the interns are asked to work a total of 160 hours in their field during the summer.

“I usually work close to 40 hours a week, about eight hours per day,” said Steiner, a senior at Casa. “If we complete the equivalent of four full-time weeks — 160 hours I believe — we get paid $1,000.”

But for most, the money isn’t nearly as important as the experience that comes from taking part in the program, whether that’s studying rock climbers or crafting camera lenses.

Ng, a Casa senior who is interested in pursuing the field of engineering, has spent her summer break studying kinesiology, which she describes simply as “the study of human movement.”

“Since we’re doing kinesiology, we have human subjects,” she explained. “One study we did was on the effects of sodium bicarbonate ­— baking soda, pretty much — on a rock climber. It’s supposed to delay lactic acid, so you don’t feel as sore and can go faster for longer periods of time.”

While Ng has been charting the activity of rock climbers, Steiner’s work has been in the computer lab, demonstrating the flexibility of the internship based on a student’s interest. Steiner has spent his time designing optical equipment, such as apertures used in scientific equipment.

To that end, Steiner has learned his way around a 3D printer, and so far he’s printed a variety of practical items such as optical posts, as well as slightly stranger objects like an octopus, platypus, shark, hedgehog, space shuttle and a “Harry Potter” inspired time-turner capable of revolving. While having fun, he’s also learning the business side of science. For example, the optical post costs 60 cents to print, while it markets for $60.

“I call that a profit,” said Steiner.

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