Regional employers are coping with too few qualified candidates for materials science-related jobs, MIT assistant professor of materials science and engineering Rafael Jaramillo says, but many community college students are unaware of the opportunities available to them. Jaramillo hopes to grow the pool of materials scientists one student at a time.
This June, Jaramillo’s lab is rolling out the Guided Academic Industry Network (GAIN) program, which will offer at least one intern for each of the next five summers a chance to conduct research in his lab, coupled with the possibility to intern at a local company the following summer.
Five Massachusetts companies have agreed to participate by interviewing the GAIN interns and possibly offering them a summer research internship. They are 1366 in Bedford, Ambri in Cambridge and Marlborough, Saint-Gobain in Northboro, Veloxint in Framingham, and Xtalic in Marlborough. “These companies were rather specifically selected for reliance on traditional materials science skills and materials processing skills,” Jaramillo says. All are within commuting distance of Boston.
“They will only take interns by mutual agreement. The company and the student have to be a match, but they’ve agreed in principle to reserve internship slots,” Jaramillo says. Both the research lab and company internships will last eight weeks.
Currently, Jaramillo says, the GAIN program is funded through his National Science Foundation CAREER award to host one new student per summer. He hopes to expand the program in the future through industrial sponsorship or renewed government funding.
Qualified candidates in materials science are needed for jobs at a variety of companies in ceramics, adhesives and coatings, lubricants, and electronic materials, Jaramillo says.
Demand for materials scientists is expected to grow nationally by 7.1 percent over the decade ending in 2026, according to U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment projections. Materials engineers are expected to grow at a slower rate, 1.6 percent. For May 2017, the BLS estimated the number of materials scientists working in Boston at 140 and in Massachusetts at 440, with a larger number working as materials engineers, 320 in Boston and 650 in the state overall.
GAIN will target participants from Bunker Hill Community College and Roxbury Community College. The first student intern will be Bruce Quinn from Roxbury Community College. Interns will gain an introduction to materials science and hands-on experience with materials processing at MIT.
GAIN interns will tie in to the MIT Materials Research Laboratory’s National Science Foundation-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center community college internship and Summer Scholars programs, giving them the opportunity to attend weekly luncheon meetings covering topics such as crafting a high-quality poster presentation, applying to graduate school, understanding patents and trademarks, and pursuing careers in materials science and other engineering fields.
Over the past two summers, Jaramillo hosted two students in his lab, Hlee Yang from Roxbury Community College, and Noon Farsab from Bunker Hill Community College. Neither was familiar with materials science before being introduced to the Jaramillo lab. “I would say that it’s their level of willingness to try new things and the success that they had in my group was one factor that led to this program being started,” Jaramillo says. “They’ve done good work. Our research moves forward a little bit faster than if they weren’t here.”
The impact of outreach to community college students is multifaceted. “As an educator, it feels really good to see the students succeed. These are students who we don’t get to interact with very often, and it’s been a real pleasure to see them learn something completely new and find success, so there is a satisfaction that comes from that,” he says. The summer internships also are a service to materials science. “When you see the opportunity that these students present, and you see the need that the industry that we serve has, and you see an opportunity to help, it’s great that I have the opportunity to do it,” Jaramillo says.
Jaramillo’s interns will work on developing new electronic materials from special compounds known as complex chalcogenides. “The types of work they’ll be doing in my lab, which is bulk materials processing and phase identification, those are skills that will be directly useful for those companies,” he says. The students will produce new semiconductors using bulk techniques, such as mixing powders and synthesizing solid-state materials in quartz ampoules. “They get their hands on some fun equipment, they get to do some machining, they get to learn X-ray diffraction, so really essential materials characterization techniques,” Jaramillo explains.
GAIN program participants must follow up their summer lab experience by presenting their MIT summer research results to fellow students back at their own campuses and similarly must also give a presentation after their second summer industry internship. Along the way they’ll be coached in soft skills such as resume and interview preparation.
There is no requirement that participants get a job or further their education in materials science. But, Jaramillo says, “We’ve gotten to expose the student to the field of materials, we’ve gotten to identify a potential new pipeline of employees for local companies, and I’ve gotten some great research done over the summer.”