Summer of Networking internship brings students together to build critical skills

While their peers were lounging around pools and taking it easy this summer, 17 students from around the world were hard at work learning about advanced networking technologies. InCNTRE's Summer of Networking (SoN) internship program at IU Bloomington is open to undergraduates entering their senior year and graduate students.

Nearing its fourth year, the internship program is funded in part through National Science Foundation grants. A complementary grant for the University of Montana ensures places in the program for three of its students.

One of several advanced networking initiatives at IU, the SoN internship offers students unparalleled, hands-on experience with large-scale networks. Through over 150 hours of professional instruction and over 200 hours of practical experience, students work side-by-side with acclaimed networking experts to develop projects that will benefit the research and education community.

"IU is perfectly poised to host this unique program because of the leadership role we fill in the community for networking, cybersecurity, and high performance computing," said Steve Wallace, InCNTRE executive director and head of the Summer of Networking program. Wallace also leads IU's SDN education and international collaboration initiatives.

Expertly taught

As part of the internship, students receive housing, a meal plan, and a cash stipend -- but the real benefit is exposure to a range networking technologies via instructors who are active in the field.

"Learning theory from experts was a really great part of the program, because we got to see them in action," said Betsy Thomas, a 2013 SoN intern and IU student working toward a master's degree in security informatics. "We were shown how things actually work in the field, and a lot of the instructors taught from personal experience in the industry, which I felt was more valuable than regular classroom instruction."

Because students in the program learn from those who actually deliver network services each day, they learn how to put theory into practice -- a key skill employers look for when hiring new graduates.

Blending theory with real-world projects

As part of the application process, students select one of three areas of interest: Network operations through Global Network Operations Center (GlobalNOC), high performance computing/research computing, and cyberinfrastructure/security. Thomas, who hopes to land a job as a security analyst after graduation, applied to the program to increase her exposure to networking and security.

Over the course of the ten-week program, students spend their mornings working in groups on team projects, with afternoons devoted to lectures. Lecture topics change each week, as do lecture speakers, giving students extensive exposure to a range of networking-related topics.

"Our interns don't work on typical college assignments. They work on team projects and actually build infrastructure that has immediate real-world applications," said Wallace. "What the interns develop in the program is used by researchers and other universities."

During the internship, Thomas worked on a project for IU's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research (CACR). "As a student of security informatics, this internship gave me immense exposure to practical aspects of networking and security," said Thomas. "Working on the Center for Trustworthy Scientific Cyberinfrastructure project for CACR was definitely a stepping stone toward my goals."

Midway through the program, students pick a topic and create a poster presentation, similar to poster presentations found at academic conferences. At the end of the program, they have the opportunity to present their posters to members of the IU tech community.

Networking and teamwork

Students are selected for the SoN program based on networking and programming experience, skill level, and interest. "Programming experience is a must. But, overall, we accept students who have a broad range of abilities -- and we look for students whose skills will complement each other," said Wallace.

"We encourage our students to work together, regardless of their experience level. This summer, we had a few students who didn't have a lot of theoretical networking experience, but did have direct experience operating networks and a vast amount of leadership experience," Wallace added. "It was their leadership experience that proved invaluable during the group project." Students who want to increase their networking skills can take optional online lessons before the program begins.

The program brings together students from countries around the globe, including Iran, India, Zimbabwe, and China. This year, the Oregon-based Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), which helps emerging research networks in third-world countries, sponsored three interns from the University of Ghana, the Zambia Research and Education Network, and the Kenya Education Network. Two NSRC instructors also delivered one of the weekly lectures.

"One of the interesting things about this internship is the networking opportunity," said Thomas. "You get to meet a lot of people during the course of the internship, which is very different from other internships where you have a set team and have to stay in one place working on a single project."

Beyond the classroom, students were invited to a presentation by Dell's CTO office on their new technology in development. In addition, female interns were invited to a luncheon to discuss women in the IT industry. The luncheon's host was IU First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, whose over 25 years in IT for higher education include her current role as adjunct faculty in IU's School of Informatics and Computing and former role as Internet2's executive director.

Looking ahead

Future plans for the SoN internship program include aligning the program more closely with the IU School of Informatics and Computing. "Right now, the program has good alignment with the GlobalNOC," said Wallace. "We want to improve the program's association with the School of Informatics, which will give faculty from the school greater input into what students work on during the program."

Students interested in applying for a 2014 SoN internship should send a cover letter, resume, academic transcript, and at least one letter of recommendation from IU faculty or IT staff to Alice Jackson at summer@incntre.iu.edu. The application deadline is November 25. Late applications may be considered, with some limitations.

For more details, visit:

http://incntre.iu.edu/summer

Questions? Email summer@incntre.iu.edu.