High school student Katie Nuchols has always been fascinated by computers. This interest led her to join Clinton High School’s robotics team, where she discovered computer engineering.

Recently, Nuchols had the opportunity to apply those skills to a project in the Next Generation STEM Internship Program (NEXTGENS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The program provides opportunities for rising high school juniors and seniors from East Tennessee counties to participate in STEM-related projects with scientists and engineers at the lab.

Under the mentorship of Katie Schuman, Ph.D., a Liane Russell Early Career Fellow, and Steven Young, Ph.D., a research scientist, both in Computational Data Analytics, Nuchols learned aspects of computer programming, machine learning and data research.

NEXTGENS Participant Profile: Katie Nuchols

High school student Katie Nuchols learned computer programming methods in the Next Generation STEM Internship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“The goal is to handle data and write programs to solve problems at the highest efficiency,” Nuchols said. “We want to teach the program to identify and recognize things to the best of its ability.”

Nuchols was surprised by how hands-on and independent the program was. To better understand new programming methods, she often read relevant literature and completed practice datasets.

Prior to participation in the program, Nuchols planned to pursue computer engineering. However, her time at the lab revealed numerous potential career paths.

“For me, the program was an opportunity to learn about the kind of work I might be doing in the future,” Nuchols said. “I learned a lot about what this type of career involves.”

Although she is unsure of what specific career path she will take, she would like to work with computers in some capacity.

Not only will the experience benefit Nuchols’ educational goals, but the programming skills can be directly applied to her school’s robotics team.

The NEXTGENS program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.