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Summers worth sharing: What four UA students did this summer

Courtesy Alyssa Montijo
Alyssa Montijo, a student at the University of Arizona, studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark this past summer.

Alyssa Montijo

Alyssa Montijo went to prison, and she loved it. 

Junior psychology and sociology major Montijo studied abroad this summer in Copenhagen, Denmark through the DIS Copenhagen program at the University of Arizona. With a great interest in criminal psychology, Montijo went on to learn about criminal behavior in a country that is ranked second best for its quality of life, according to U.S. News — the first is Canada.

This is where Montijo had the opportunity to visit Jyderup, a town with an open prison facility, with her class. 

“I didn’t know what to expect, because I never really heard of an ‘open prison,’” Montijo said, even though she was a part of the UA Criminal Justice Association and had visited a local prison prior to her trip. “It’s so different than here in the U.S. … Scandinavia in general, they are really for rehabilitation and like to recognize the human in a criminal. They don’t want to completely punish them.”

Unlike the prison she visited in Tucson, which she describes as similar to a military boot camp, Montijo said that inmates in Jyderup had more freedoms, from dressing in whatever clothing they wanted to being able to decorate their cells with furniture.

“Something that shocked me was their kitchen had knives out in the open,” Montijo said, illustrating the trusting relationship she saw the guards had with the prisoners. “They want the criminals to know they are still are [sic] people and that they can go back to society and not struggle.”

The guards would also allow inmates who committed petty crimes the ability to leave the prison if they earned it and behaved responsibly by returning. 

Surprisingly, even one of the tour guides for Montijo’s class was himself an inmate. 

“We had a Q&A with him and he basically told us that if he were to come to a prison in the US, he would have reoffended and committed another crime, because the prisons over there only want to punish their criminals and give them harsh treatment,” Montijo said. 

After leaving the open prison, Montijo said she could not stop writing in her notebook about the experience. 

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Montijo would then continue her summer study abroad experience studying cross-cultural psychology by visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Berlin, Germany and by exploring food in Brussels, Belgium. Besides going to the open prison, another cool moment Montijo had was spotting Katy Perry relaxing a day before her concert at Tivoli, a theme park in Copenhagen. 

“I really liked that it was random and spontaneous,” Montijo said, looking back at her summer abroad experience. “I love to learn [about] new cultures and meet new people. I guess I am trying to make life more enjoyable and adventurous, enhancing my college experience.”

Elizabeth Barnitt

Microsoft’s slogan for 2018 is “We believe in what people make possible.”

In the beginning, junior systems engineering major Elizabeth Barnitt did not think she could ever intern at such a large corporation as Microsoft. However, after submitting a resume last year at a career fair hosted by Society of Women Engineers, she found herself leaving the summer heat of her Phoenix hometown for a 12-week internship in Seattle. 

Working as an Explore Intern for Microsoft’s Unified Customer Management Bing ads team, Barnitt focused on developing an application to automate the customization process for creating PowerPoints. 

“Account managers would generate PowerPoint reports that contain stats on the advertising campaigns of the companies they advertise for in various charts and graphs. When it was given to us [however], there was only one default theme for the reports,” Barnitt said.

She explained that the account managers would then have to spend hours personalizing each individual report based on both the preferences of the customers and manger as well as the season. Barnitt was responsible for coding for and working on specific parts of a product that would help the account managers. 

Barnitt said she learned a lot, and that the experience allowed her to grow more independent and confident in her abilities. Before this, Barritt said she found this challenging. However, she said that that the company put great focus on having a “growth mindset,” which means employees are constantly learning and improving and not being fixed in old ways.

“Going into the summer, I knew no one and had to get comfortable with doing a lot of things on my own,” Barnitt said. “Since I’d had no prior internship experience before this, I faced a lot of imposter syndrome and spent the summer understanding and attempting to overcome that.”

Barnitt said she was humbled by the opportunity and was glad she put herself out there. Because of this chance of a lifetime, Barnitt found herself in memorable experiences, from sitting down with Microsoft’s Executive Vice President and UA alumnus Kurt DelBene to seeing cool AI technology and concepts by the company’s Envisioning Center for what the future of technology could be like, to sailing on Puget Sound with other interns. 

“For anyone that thinks that they could never intern at a company like Microsoft: I thought the same thing, but you honestly never know what they are looking for and big tech companies need to hire people from all different backgrounds to diversify themselves and improve their products,” Barnitt said. “You never know if you don’t apply!”

Cinthia Lira

From celebrating a holiday with the Italian president to seeing the royal wedding to joining Europe’s largest open-air music festival, senior graphic design major Cinthia Lira did it all while studying art history and photography this summer in UA’s Arizona in Orvieto program in Italy. 

The moment Lira landed in Italy, she faced her first two problems: the language barrier and learning how the train system worked. Finding a nearby woman, she attempted to communicate with her using an Italian-translating app for help.

Cinthia Lira, a student at the University of Arizona, studied abroad in Orvieto, Italy this past summer.
Cinthia Lira, a student at the University of Arizona, studied abroad in Orvieto, Italy this past summer.

“She didn’t understand me and kept on saying something,” Lira said. Lira was having trouble writing words in Italian to translate into English and couldn’t figure it out. “I was finally able to translate one word that she kept on repeating, and it turns out that she was Greek and not Italian … That’s why we couldn’t understand each other; she only speaks Greek and I was trying to speak poor Italian to her.”

After that, Lira soon caught on to navigating trains using apps and was able to pick up enough Italian to get by and to connect it with Spanish.

Lira said that it was great to study art history in Italy, because of all the museums, the Renaissance’s influence and works from Michelangelo, Donatello and other artists she called “all the Ninja Turtles.”

“It’s much more green — a lot of meadows with lavender — so you can see purple mountains,” Lira said, describing her thoughts on how pretty Orvieto it was. “It looks exactly like a fairytale.”

Lira also said she thought it was nice how close and welcoming the local Italian people were and doubted one could get the same experience in a bigger city like Florence or Rome. 

However, Lira said she enjoyed herself in Rome a lot and thought it a beautiful city as well. She visited famous attractions like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. One of her favorite moments was going there while the city was celebrating Republic Day and seeing the president give a speech. 

Lira also accidentally got to crash a wedding when she saw the couple and threw rice — a wedding tradition — with all the guests.

This was not the only wedding she attended. 

While exploring London before coming to Italy, Lira was able to catch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they passed in their cars. 

“There were a lot of Americans, probably more Americans than British at the wedding. The Americans were so excited ’cause we were getting an American princess and it was so crazy … I screamed [I was] so excited, too,” Lira said.  

Another exciting thing that Lira said she did was going to Donauinselfest, the world’s largest free music festival, in Vienna, Austria. There she was able to see Portugal. The Man and other great musical acts.

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Through all the fun and the places she went to, she said traveling abroad made her realize the world is small and people aren’t so different. 

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I feel like I went there by myself not knowing anybody and the Italian language, so it felt like a really big step that I made me grow to be more independent, where I can go anywhere and I’ll be fine,” Lira said. 

Collins Lewin

Junior Collins Lewin described his internship with NASA as a mind-opening and impacting experience. Though he might have not been training to go to space as some might assume, the aspiring astrophysicist was able to witness groundbreaking research in his field. 

Out of the many space centers all over the US, Lewin, a triple-major in astronomy, physics and mathematics, applied to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, focusing on his interest in high energy physics. 

“I think that for me this really solidified that I wanted to go into high energy astrophysics,” Lewin said, a subject which, in his opinion, explores the fundamental aspects of physics more than any other topic. “And it also lets us investigate Einstein’s general theory of relativity, so I’d say that the research is just really, really exciting to me.”

Lewin worked for the Fermi Gamma-Ray Burst Team with Dr. Colleen Wilson-Hodge, who led her team to discover the first gamma-ray, a type of electromagnetic radiation, counterpart to gravitational waves — warping of time and space when two dense objects collide, which was a huge deal in the astrophysics community. 

Looking at the gamma rays across the universe sourcing from colliding neutron stars and communicating with those that look at the gravitational waves, Lewin was assigned to look at the compiled data and find a way to increase the effectiveness of methods that help locate the counterparts.

“I got to increase the effectiveness of detecting gamma-ray counterparts to gravitational waves by around 32 percent,” Lewin said. “It was really incredible … You’re, like, at a computer terminal, but you’re looking at data which has been one of the newest breakthroughs in astrophysics.”

The best way Lewin knew to explain how it all works is to imagine that, if one person knows the position of an object, and another knows its velocity, the two people can unlock so much information about the object when they are conversing. 

“Studying high energy astrophysics can lead to other discoveries in physics that have to lead us to relativity which has allowed us to the GPS and things like that,” Lewin said regarding how all of this impacts society and how they can use it for today’s growing technology. 

Other amazing things that Lewin said he was able to do while interning at NASA included seeing the Saturn V rocket that was built to send astronauts to the moon in the Apollo program, touring behind the scenes of the NASA flight center, the command center for the International Space Station and getting a special preview of NASA’s Space Launch System, which NASA claims will be the most powerful rocket it has built thus far.

“I’d say it was in that moment, when touring, where I kind of realized I am somewhere that has an incredible amount of history,” Lewin said. 

Lewin also had the chance to represent his team by volunteering in many different departments to teach NASA’s science to thousands of kids in a park downtown.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “That’s a cliche that everyone loves, but I’ve always dreamed about going to a NASA center and working for them. The research there is just so amazing, and it was very influential in my career.”

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