Christy Cunningham

Christy Cunningham

Christy Cunningham

Track: Optics
Undergrad: Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ - Physics & Astronomy
Internship: Areté Associates
Current Job Title: Remote Observer at Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation

What about the program intrigued you?
When I was in high school, my dream was to get my Ph.D in Astronomy and do as much research as I could. After getting my bachelors in physics and astronomy I realized that academia wasn’t what I wanted and that I should start looking for a job I could progress with. I worked at a telescope for 3 years and realized how much I loved working hands-on and troubleshooting with the telescope equipment. I found the UO internship website for the internship program when my term position was near it’s end. The part that intrigued me the most about the program was the hands-on experience they promised in classes and in the internship work environment. Not only could I be done in less than two years, I could also get paid more than a typical Master’s student working for a university would make while working on real problems and products in the tech world.

What was the summer like for you?
The summer was intense but not much more than what I would expect while being in graduate school. I typically spent most of my time at the university but still had time some nights for my volleyball hobby. Spending most of my time in the lab and in class helped me bond with my fellow students and build lifetime friendships while collaborating on projects and homework. Working as a team with my class helped me learn more about the subjects/projects and group dynamics similar to an industrial setting.
The summer schedule consisted of a few hours in lecture and the rest was mostly spent in the lab or with homework. We would spend a few weeks on a particular subject in lecture with labs in the evening that correlated with what we were currently learning to help cement those concepts. Near the end of the summer we were able to choose a project to work on and spent full days focusing on that in an industrial-like setting.

Where did you go for your internship?
I was so excited when I was given an offer to work in the Laser Development Department at Areté Associates in Longmont, Colorado!

What sorts of things did you work on?
I had the opportunity to work on many projects during my time at Areté Associates. We are a company that largely focuses on SBIR projects for government contracts so most of my time is spent on developing new-age laser systems and sensors for national defense. Most of my time during the internship was focused on one aspect of the laser build process with the highest priority risk. I did most of the research, design, and implementation of the high-risk experiments which made me feel like a huge part of the team and made me even more excited for its success. It’s fulfilling to know that the work I am doing here will directly help our nation’s defense systems.

Did you feel the program prepared you well for it?
Almost every day I have mini epiphanies that connect what I learned in the program with my position. Not only was I prepared with technical knowledge and experience but also with strong insights on emotional intelligence, group dynamics, and negotiation skills that helped me excel in my current position. The most helpful preparation came from the focus on real-life industrial teaching methods rather than the standard academic approaches.

Why do you feel this was a good fit for you?
Areté Associates was a great fit because their main goal was to provide me with a diverse learning experience at the Masters level with multiple projects. I feel like I have learned more about industrial laser production and national defense systems than I could ever have learned in academia.