Friday, October 21, 2011

EDGE Interns get Hands on Experience in Green Biotech

By Britt Flaherty

Pearson Fuels at the Pump
Brett Schwemmer packs his surfboard into a diesel-fueled blazer when the waves roll in, and since hitting the beach in an eco-friendly way is important to this San Diego lover, he is interested in new fuels that don't pollute our oceans. Schwemmer is part of the Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) Initiative's internship program, which places EDGE-certified graduates in local biotech companies for hands-on experience and training. Schwemmer is working at Pearson Fuels, which is currently developing biodiesel and ethanol-based fuels in San Diego. A marketing major from CSU San Marcos, Schwemmer is interested in applying his advertising skills to help sell biofuels. "Biodiesel was something that I always wanted to use in my blazer, but never had the chance," he says. Schwemmer's internship is giving him the skills necessary to join his background in advertising with his passion for green technology. "The best part of the EDGE program has been the job experience for me. I was able to have a lot of freedom while working at Pearson Fuels in their marketing department. The challenges and opportunities took my skills to the next level."

EDGE Intern Emily E. Effner
working at her microscope
The EDGE internships aren't all marketing and business, though – most EDGE interns are at the bench learning valuable lab skills to develop green fuel themselves. Emily E. Effner and Bharath Bharadwaj spent their two-month internships in industry. Effner worked at General Atomics, collecting and analyzing biological samples from photosynthetic microbes. "I enjoyed taking an experiment from cradle (setting up, research) to grave (writing reports), and can't wait to continue studying photosynthetic organisms in industry or graduate school," she says. Bharadwaj worked for SG Biofuels using next generation sequencing technology to analyze larger photosynthetic organisms like plants. Bharadwaj isolated DNA from a plant species and prepared this DNA for genome sequencing, thus adding to our knowledge of how photosynthetic organisms grow and develop.

EDGE Intern Baharath
Bharadwaj working in lab
Both Effner and Bharadwaj's internships are the first step in their careers in biotech. "The internship gave me the opportunity to get my 'foot in the door' at a company," Effner says. "Not only did I learn everything that is fundamental to working in a lab, but I had the opportunity to demonstrate a strong work ethic and passion for learning. I have no doubt the experience and friends I made will help me secure a position with an innovative biofuel company." This kind of hands-on experience is even more vital in a slower economy. "We all know how difficult it is to obtain the first work experience in a field we are interested in." Baharadwaj points out. "I think the EDGE program makes it easier for both industry as well as candidates seeking jobs to find people with shared interests."

            A new class of EDGE students will start taking courses next Spring for certification and internship placement. To find out more, you can check out the Biocom website or read the previous SD-CAB blog on EDGE certification.

Britt Flaherty is a graduate student at UC San Diego and a volunteer writer and educator with SD-CAB. You can contact her at

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