A RISEing Star: Biomedical Engineering Student Awarded International Research Internship

When Leslie LaLonde first heard about the RISE internship program, she thought, “I’m all over this.”

She wasted no time in applying to the competitive Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program and recently received word of her acceptance for summer 2013. The program offers undergraduate students from the United States, Canada, and Europe the chance to work with researchers at Germany’s top research universities and institutions.

RISE dovetails nicely with LaLonde’s academic and personal interests: she is a second-year biomedical engineering student and has a passion for all things German. For 12 weeks, LaLonde will work alongside a doctoral candidate at the University of Hannover, in Germany. Her internship assignment will focus on assisting with research in cardiac tissue graft support structures.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. I get to immerse myself in the culture, but the working language is English, so I don’t have to worry about translating technical terms such as ‘cardiac tissue graft stabilizing structure,’” says LaLonde. The doctoral researcher she will be working with has already proven to be hospitable—he’s helped her arrange for housing at the university and even invited her to an academic conference.

LaLonde’s fascination with the German language and culture began during her childhood. She was immersed in the culture at a young age, as her family lived in Stuttgart, Germany, on a US military base. Her parents sent her to a German preschool and encouraged her to keep up with the language.

LaLonde took her parents’ words to heart and did more than keep up—she excelled in her German language classes through primary and secondary school and won an award in high school for her linguistic skills. She had ample opportunity for intercultural communication at home during the year her family hosted a German exchange student, who LaLonde identifies as her “sister.” This summer, her sister, who is in medical school, will play host to LaLonde and her parents for a weeklong visit following the internship.

Thy Yang, director of International Programs and Services and a former instructor of LaLonde’s, describes her as “a true inspiration for future students.” After coming to the University, LaLonde took the modern language placement exam, allowing her to earn a German minor within her first academic year. She is also active on the performing arts scene with the Tech Theatre Company.

In March, LaLonde fused her flare for the dramatic and foreign language as a German consultant for the Company’s production of “I Am My Own Wife.” The play is a one-man tour de force based on the true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who survived both the Nazi onslaught and the repressive East German Communist regime. “Naturally, there is a lot of German in the play,” she says. “I worked with the actor on his pronunciation.”

She also played the grandmother in “Fuddy Meers” and Viola/Cesario in the Shakespearean comedy “Twelfth Night,” a part that required her to crop her long hair. “I almost cried, but I really wanted that part,” says LaLonde. “I’d always wanted to be in ‘Twelfth Night.’”

She lives in International House, a multicultural student community in West McNair Hall.

After graduation, LaLonde would like to travel abroad and feels the RISE experience could open up avenues to working in Germany. “I’ve cleared it with my boyfriend, and he is willing to move with me. He’s a voice actor, so he can work anywhere there’s a mic,” she says.

Administered by the German Exchange Service (DAAD), the RISE program provides internship opportunities for undergraduate students majoring in biology, chemistry, physics, Earth science, and engineering. Intern selection is competitive, with 700 summer positions available and an average of 2,000 applications submitted annually by English-speaking students. Each RISE intern receives a stipend from the DAAD to help cover living expenses, and the host research institution provides housing assistance.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.