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SURF Provides Hands-On Experience in STEM Fields

by Marshall Child

Every year at NIST, during the summer, there is a call for college students to gain work experience through the NIST Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Through SURF, college undergraduates can apply to intern within the following labs and departments:

  • Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL)
  • Engineering Laboratory (EL)
  •  Information Technology Laboratory (ITL)
  • Material Measurement Laboratory (MML)
  • NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR)
  • Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML)
  • Technology Partnerships Office (TPO)

The primary purpose of the SURF program is to inspire students to pursue careers within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). By applying for the SURF program, students can get hands-on experience in a variety of labs, as well as engage in NIST projects. Initiated in 1993 and with over 3,000 students having participated, the SURF program has provided an 11-week window for individuals to contribute to the latest, cutting-edge research, providing complete immersion into the life of a NIST scientist/engineer. The SURF program brings with it a mentor for each student to help guide them throughout the experience, as well as multiple subject matter experts who give seminars and lectures on different scientific and engineering disciplines. The most recent cohort of SURF applicants will go through the program virtually, where they will be able to maintain flexible work schedules with telework capabilities, allowing them to work from anywhere in the U.S. and its territories.

When looking for internship and/or career growth opportunities, the SURF program provides an excellent opportunity for college students to get real-world experience and get their foot in the door of federal government. It also allows them to focus on technical areas they may want to specialize in and gives them substantial time to research and work on the latest NIST projects alongside NIST scientists and engineers. Overall, the SURF program can help build a stronger, professional foundation for undergraduates to help achieve career success.

In the past, the Technology Partnerships Office (TPO) has hosted several SURF students who have applied their scientific, analytical, and communication skills to translate NIST patents into digestible form for the general public, as well as to come up with ideas to expand the knowledge of the TPO mission, both internally and externally. The SURF program provides a greater understanding of the NIST mission, which includes the importance of technology transfer from the labs to the commercial market to drive the economy. TPO, whose mission is to lead the technology transfer process that NIST researchers use to develop innovations from concept to practical application, has been able to give several SURF students a chance to gain a deeper level insight into the importance of this mission and its effect across the country.

Released June 15, 2021