Intern wanted: Must be willing to make an impact

Science & technology

As summer draws to a close, hundreds of interns who worked at ExxonMobil’s locations throughout the United States will be returning to their universities and graduate programs. Interns at ExxonMobil get on-the-job experience in engineering, geoscience and more, contributing to their teams in new and interesting ways. In fall 2015, Sarah Newby, a materials science and engineering student at Penn State, worked on the development of polyethylene film – a product used in everything from food storage containers to tear-resistant trash bags. This summer, she’s back, with a project supporting the development of polypropylene for applications that require film, foam (like in recyclable food and beverage containers) and thermoforming (think yogurt containers and refrigerator linings). Part of her internship sent Sarah to the Baton Rouge Polyolefins plant to participate in a commercial-scale trial run. Sarah is also exploring new materials for use in nonwovens – fabric-like sheets that have been bonded, not woven, like in surgical gowns or diapers – and traveled to Raleigh, NC for fiber trials.

The Penn State News printed Jesse Westbrook’s article about Sarah’s 2015 internship and we’re pleased to feature it on Energy Factor.

ExxonMobil internship gives student new view of materials industry

By Jesse Westbrook

Sarah Newby had one goal when she went to the fall 2014 career fair at Penn State: hand her résumé to an ExxonMobil representative. New to the materials science and engineering (MatSE) major, she was excited for any MatSE experience she could get her hands on, and one of her professors had mentioned that ExxonMobil was looking specifically for MatSE students.

Newby, a senior Schreyer Scholar working toward a bachelor of science in MatSE and a bachelor of arts in Chinese, traveled to Houston in fall 2015 after landing a semester-long product-development internship with the company.

“ExxonMobil has a fantastic internship program. The company assigns projects that would have otherwise been completed by the full-time employees, and challenges interns to produce results that can help advance the project to the next stage,” Newby said.

Newby worked with ExxonMobil Chemical Company’s Gas Phase and Differentiated Polyethylene Product Development group, which turns polymer-based research into products for commercialization. Her internship focused on blown film grades of polyethylene, the material commonly used to create plastic bags and plastic wrap. “It’s a really exciting group to be involved with. Product development has ties to both research and marketing, which allowed me to expand my knowledge of polymer fundamentals while also learning about the bigger picture,” she said.

Polyethylene pellets, which Sarah Newby, a senior studying materials science and engineering, used to develop different blends of blown film as part of an internship at ExxonMobil during the fall 2015 semester. Image: Sarah Newby

The company produces polyethylene resin that they test on blown film lines. In the blown film process, a liquid polymer melt is inflated with air to form a tube-like bubble that is strung up over 60 feet to allow the film to solidify before it is flattened into sheets. After the sheets become solid, they are inspected in order to provide feedback to the ExxonMobil team working on optimizing the product.

“One of my top-priority projects focused on lab-scale blending of polyethylene with a target polymer to identify blends that produce defect-free film. Successfully identifying these new blends opens the opportunity for ExxonMobil’s polyethylene products to expand into new markets,” she said.

Sarah Newby, a senior materials science and engineering student, learns how to measure the width of sheets of blown film to make sure they fall within a target range. This was one of the many new experiences she had while completing an internship at ExxonMobil during the fall 2015 semester. Image: Sarah Newby

Newby relished the opportunity to work on important projects for a Fortune 500 company as a student. “It was an awesome, eye-opening experience for me. Every day I was learning something new about the company,” she said. The internship also reinforced the importance of what she was learning in the classroom. “Before the ExxonMobil internship, my classes helped me build a foundational knowledge in MatSE. When I returned from ExxonMobil, I found that I began to focus on how the classroom concepts can be applied. My internship experience connected classroom lectures to current problems that companies are tackling every day,” she said.

ExxonMobil’s internship program culminates with a research poster exhibition and a final presentation that all employees can attend. Newby showcased her polyethylene projects and spent time answering fellow employees’ questions. “I enjoyed seeing all of my work come together at the end, and having the opportunity to answer questions with my team made me very proud,” said Newby, who will return to ExxonMobil in summer 2016 for a second internship. “I realized that my efforts really did have an impact.”

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Source: Penn State News
Credit: Sarah Newby

Tags:   educationinternshipSTEM
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