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Senior works on real-world naval research during summer internship

Over the summer, Santa Catalina School student Tarn ’23 participated in a paid, eight-week internship program at Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School, just down the road from campus.

The competitive Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) allows high school students to conduct real-world research in U.S. Navy labs across the country.

Below, Tarn shares about her experience in the program, her plans for the future, and how Catalina helped prepare her for the experience.

Why did you apply for the program?
I wanted to try doing something closer to engineering, the job I’m planning to pursue. I want to work on improving renewable energy technologies in the future, and doing something more engineering-related seemed like a logical next step. SEAP would allow me to work on a project for eight weeks straight. Given that it is a naval program, the project I would be able to work on would be a real problem that needs to be solved. I really value making a positive impact, and being able to do so while gaining experience in a new field was enticing.

What research did you work on?
I worked on making a computer program to predict the quality of potential explosive molecules. Synthesizing new explosives is a time-consuming and prohibitively expensive process. My program would be able to help identify new potential explosives.

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Before interning at NPS I was worried that my love of research was limited to marine sciences. All my previous experiences with research have been based in the ocean. This summer I got to teach myself coding and the chemistry and physics behind explosives. This was just about as far from marine biology as one can get. I found I really loved it, which led me to realize that I love research itself, not just the ocean. I value curiosity and the process of trying to make or understand something new.

What role did Catalina play in your preparation for the program?
There were many parts of Catalina that helped me prepare for this program, but I think the most important were the skills I gained from MERP, Catalina’s Marine Ecology Research Program. This program not only taught me how to conduct research, but it also taught me curiosity, critical thinking, and how to push through the discomfort of the unknown. I had almost no relevant experience going into my project, but the experience of persevering and teaching myself new skills from MERP allowed me to have an amazing time and make progress.

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