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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Professor Cupid Helps Students Find Internships

Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, is the cupid of biotechnology. She is the matchmaker between her students and their dream jobs.

Rittenhouse-Olson has successfully created an internship program through the Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Science that has placed over 140 of her students in summer internships across the globe. Her program is designed to enrich students' learning, as well as give them greater employment opportunities.

The internship program provides many students with their first outside of the classroom research experience, which provides great assistance in building a résumé and competing for fulfilling job opportunities following the completion of their UB degree.

"Sometimes I think in some other earlier time I would have been a match maker, because I like matching people up to careers that really fit them," Rittenhouse-Olson said. "[I'm] Match.com of the biotech world…Once I heard that a company needed a biotechnologist that could speak Italian, and we had a student that was from Italy so it was a great match…I try to hear what they will be best in and find the best match."

From the beginning of her own education career, Rittenhouse-Olson has had numerous opportunities to work in labs and conduct research. She knows how much of an impact work opportunities can have on students.

"Kate is very passionate about her roles as a mother, research mentor and teacher," said husband James R. Olson, Ph.D., and professor of pharmacology and toxicology at UB. "She strives to assist undergraduate and graduate students reach their full potential both in the classroom and in the research lab."

Mahima Gupta, a senior biotechnology major, participated in the summer internship program that Rittenhouse-Olson helped her find.

"The internship program helped me learn the process of going out in the real world to look for jobs in the future and also gave me a practical idea of what kind of work I can expect to do," Gupta said. "[I got to see] if I like it to the extent [that] I am ready to make it my career. Dr. Olson is an amazing mentor…The best thing about her is that she wants us to gain as much as we can from these internships."

For the program to run successfully, Rittenhouse-Olson contacted over 200 companies to see if they would be interested in taking students in as interns. Thirty responded yes. Some of those are as far as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. If students seek an internship with a field not provided, Rittenhouse-Olson tries to find a contact for them.

Aside from teaching, running the internship program since 1999, and being the mother of seven (four step, three her own), Rittenhouse-Olson also conducts research, edits journals, and is writing a book.

Her work has brought her to 14 different countries. Her dedication is so evident that even the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz, took an interest in her biotechnology research. After he read a story in USA Today on a paper she published with Dr. Adel Almogren, a former student who is now faculty at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz contacted the university. Dr. Almogren then invited Professor Rittenhouse-Olson, her husband and a former student to Riyadh.

When they met, the King was very kind, according to Rittenhouse-Olson. He gave them gold plate commemorative coins and discussed the research.

Rittenhouse-Olson frequently travels as part of her career. She is often invited to speak at conferences. On her trips, she makes it a priority to visit former students if any are in the area. Keeping close ties is important to her even long after they graduate. In turn, this also further assists her program. Her former students help her find internship and job placements for new students, she said.

Rittenhouse-Olson has been recognized for her biotechnology summer internship program under the new UB Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. The award generated from awareness within the university that mentors have a substantial impact on students' education and experiences here at UB.

"[Students] learn what the workplace is like. They make contacts. They make a contribution towards scientific progress," Rittenhouse-Olson said. "It's nice to feel like you've made a difference to their lives…I just want to be the kind of teacher I'd want my own kids to have."

Email: features@ubspectrum.com

Additional Reporting by Veronica Ritter


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