Human physiology internships help students learn, and earn

A new internship program at one of the UO’s fastest-growing majors is setting students up for the health field better than ever before.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Department of Human Physiology in the UO’s College of Arts and Sciences now has a director of internships and has so far provided stipends for 61 undergraduate students to get paid, hands-on experience. 

Amy Sibul, the new internship director, created the program from scratch. A large part of her work has been contacting local organizations to seek opportunities that would benefit both them and the students.   

Many organizations were eager to participate, she said. Human physiology students can now get internships at companies that do work ranging from developing robotics for people with mobility issues to offering team sports for children who don’t otherwise have access.  

All the internships are funded by the anonymous donation. As a result, more organizations can offer internships and more students can take them.

“It allows students who wouldn’t be able to spend those 40 hours a week this summer in an unpaid position engage in these really great human physiology-related experiential learning opportunities, and pay their rent,” Sibul said.

As part of their internship, the students take a course to get the most of their experience and what may come after graduation. They research their employer, set internship goals, reflect and edit their resumes. 

At the Knight Cancer Institute’s Winters-Stone Exercise Lab at Oregon Health & Science University, Jaime Santos is learning which exercises help improve balance in cancer patients, who experience a loss of balance and are more likely to fall as a result.  

Santos, who graduated in June with human physiology and business administration degrees, applied to the internship to gain research experience. After only a few weeks he learned about the research process and lab dynamics. And by chatting with the other research assistants, he is discovering the many career paths that can lead to and from research.

“Knowing what helped them make the decisions that they made thus far can help me navigate the foreseeable future,” he said. 

In the spring of 2023, Faith Froehlich interned with Saavsus, a Eugene-based firm that developed an app to help teachers lead more engaging and healthy physical education classes.

For some elementary schoolers, the extent of their physical education is a few jumping jacks in their classrooms. Already-strained classroom teachers must do their best without physical education funding.

Froehlich focused on student satisfaction with the app, which she evaluated through observations and surveys. Children were on both extremes. On a 0 to 5 survey, she said, “Some are like ‘5, 5, 5, I love PE.’ Some are like ‘0, 0, 0, I hate it. I never want to do that again.” But overall, the children enjoyed their experiences.  

The internship has had a lasting impact on Froehlich, who will graduate in 2024.

“Being able to see how my studies in school relate to real life is an insane experience,” she said.

She has long been interested in a career in medicine, and after seeing how physical education affects children’s health, she wants to specialize in pediatrics.

Human physiology’s internship program is getting noticed and is about to be replicated. The College of Arts and Sciences is planning to fund two more internship directors in other departments.  

Meanwhile, the human physiology internship program has funding for three years, and Sibul hopes it won’t stop there.

 “As we’re trying to increase equity and access to experiential learning opportunities, (the internship program) is a good place to invest,” she said.

Students interested in the internship can visit the human physiology internships page or email Amy Sibul.

By Vishva Nalamalapu, College of Arts and Sciences
—Top photo: (From left) 
Milan Mafinejad, Katelin Eder and Ethan Busi are all summer human physiology interns in Oregon Health & Science University research labs