NSM Undergrads Intern at Smithsonian Institute

Gaining Practical Experience in the Nation’s Capital

This summer, four students from the University of Houston’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics traveled to Washington, D.C., for internships at the Smithsonian Institution. NSM students Muhammad Hashir Jamal, Benita Lalani, Vishnu Narayana and Tuba Shiwani were part of a group of 10 UH students.

NSM Students
Four NSM students, part of a group of ten UH students, spent five weeks as interns at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

For their five week internship experience, students were assigned to different offices throughout the Smithsonian.

Office of Fellowships and Internships: Coordinating Activities

Narayana’s assignments landed him at the Office of Fellowships and Internships, where he coordinated activities relating to fellows and interns. A typical day consisted of writing blog posts about the accomplishments of interns, composing events lists, contributing to the newsletter, and sending out acceptance letters to future interns and fellows.

“I wanted to learn skills, such as communication and leadership, that were different from lab techniques such as PCR and cell culture that I had learned before,” Narayana said.

Privacy Office: Privacy Issues Relating to Smithsonian Institution

Lalani and Jamal interned at the Privacy Office, where they helped work out privacy issues relating to the Smithsonian Institution.

“This was my first "real" research experience – one that lasted for quite some time and led to conclusive results, so it opened my eyes to a whole other world of opportunities,” Jamal said.

As part of their duties, interns evaluated exhibits for their compliance with the Smithsonian’s privacy policy, briefed leadership on privacy implications, and researched security risks for new technologies.

“My mentors worked hard to make sure that the other interns and I had opportunities to take away knowledge and experience that would be beneficial in the careers we wanted to pursue,” Lalani said. “For example, I had the chance to learn more about HIPPA laws as well as ransomware attacks at hospitals.”

Washington D.C. Experience

For many of the students, this was their first time visiting Washington, D.C. In addition to the work they did as interns, visiting the sights around the city was part of the experience, one that opened their eyes to new possibilities.

“This experience has made me want to pursue internships outside of Houston,” Narayana said.

After getting off work, students spent their evenings visiting museums, attending the symphony, and enjoying all the different sights D.C. has to offer.

“My mentors at the Privacy Office went out of their way to make sure I had a chance to enjoy the museums,” Lalani said. “For example, one of the days they arranged a backstage tour of the Smithsonian National Zoo for all the interns.”

“You are in D.C. for a very limited amount of time, and it will go by VERY fast,” Jamal said. “So, take risks, have fun, and carpe diem!”

This opportunity was funded by the UH Honors College and the Cougar Initiative to Engage (CITE) program, with the CITE grant providing funds to extend the internship for an extra week.

- Rachel Fairbank, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics