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Internship with multicultural program shapes student’s career plan


Multicultural program cascades hike (L-R): Carolyn Copenheaver, Brittany Butcher, and Keita Shumaker studied the effects of climate change on sugar maples during Butcher’s MAOP Summer Research Internship.

Feb. 10, 2017 – During summer 2016, Associate Professor Carolyn Copenheaver partnered with Keita Shumaker, associate professor of biology at the University of West Alabama, to provide a worthy student with a unique opportunity through Virginia Tech’s Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP) Summer Research Internship.

Brittany Butcher, a senior majoring in biology at the University of West Alabama, was recruited by Copenheaver and Shumaker for the 10-week internship, designed to prepare undergraduate students for graduate-level work. The three studied the effects of climate change on sugar maples, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

In addition to conducting research, Butcher’s internship included preparation for graduate school through a variety of workshops, Graduate Record Exam prep courses, and professional development opportunities. One of these opportunities was the chance to present the group’s findings at the MAOP’s Summer Research Symposium. The MAOP, which hosted 46 interns from around the U.S. last summer, is designed to increase participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in graduate programs.

“Brittany had never realized that she was well suited for research,” Copenheaver said, “but I watched her gain in confidence and, by the end of the summer, I was able to communicate with her as though she were a scientific peer rather than a student.”

For Butcher, the internship was also an opportunity to discover an exciting new career path. After discussing her interest in the field of medical geography with Associate Professor Korine Kolivras, Butcher decided to continue working toward a career in research. With her eye-opening internship behind her, Butcher plans to return to Virginia Tech after graduation to pursue a master’s degree in geography.

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