University of Rochester

Alumnus Creates Engineering Internship Program

April 1, 1994

Armed with a lifetime of teaching experience and the fifty- year-old memory of a lost opportunity, Richard Eisenberg has created an opportunity he wishes he had when he was a student.

Eisenberg, a University of Rochester alumnus and professor emeritus, participated in work-study programs before arriving as a student at the University. But the hours in industry, although financially rewarding, did not relate to his studies, and educationally the time was pretty much wasted, he says.

So Eisenberg has set out to give students a meaningful work experience that meshes into their studies. A donation by Eisenberg has spurred the establishment of the Richard F. Eisenberg and Harriet Rippey Eisenberg Endowed Fund. The initial grants from the fund are supporting summer internships in the Department of Chemical Engineering, where Eisenberg taught for 38 years before retiring in 1983.

Natalie Skirko, a senior, is one of 17 students who have been through the program in the last two years. She worked with Professor Harvey Palmer, chair of the department, on a project trying to separate oil from water. This is a concern for airports, as the large amount of water used to clean planes and runways is often contaminated by oil and creates problems for the environment.

Skirko spent up to 40 hours each week in the library studying current separation methods and products, learning not only how to do research but also how to develop a valuable product.

"I think you learn more than you could in any class," says Skirko, who had already gained a sound foundation in engineering principles from her course work. "We can use our skills in ways we didn't know we could before."

The project helped her decide to go into industry after graduation -- she prefers product development to research -- and she hopes to work in the oil industry, where drillers face a problem similar to the one she worked on with Palmer.

Each of the students works closely with a faculty member for 11 weeks during the summer and receives a stipend of $2,200 plus free room. Palmer says the program gives students hands-on experience in applying their engineering principles to practical problems, and gives faculty a chance to explore new areas. "It also provides an appealing way for companies to become involved with the department through collaboration and sponsorship of summer projects," he says.

It was while working summers during college that Eisenberg got his first experience integrating his studies with his work.

"The work place can provide a real education in many ways," says Eisenberg. "One of the more valuable lessons I learned is that theory doesn't always give you the answer to a problem. Sometimes there are better answers you can get from common sense and practical considerations.

"Students need to understand the significance of the theory they learn," says Eisenberg. "Putting them in charge of a project is a fine way for this to occur. The success of a project depends on the student's ability, motivation, and intellect. It's a great process to watch; that's why we're in the teaching business." This philosophy guided Eisenberg's years of teaching. His students included Palmer, who benefited from the lesson then and who is trying to pass the lesson on to the next generation of students through the internship program.

"It's given the students a completely different perspective on their discipline," Palmer added. "It's as if they're working as an engineer on the job."

The program is also partly funded by the chemical engineering department and corporate sponsors. Anyone interested in more information should call Palmer at 275-4041. rmd