Every Project Onramp intern shares certain qualities: intellect, drive, a passion for science and an interest in helping people.

Beyond that, each of our interns has unique stories to tell—stories about where they came from, what drives them, and what they hope to accomplish in their careers. Here’s a look at just a few of our interns!

Home Town: Philadelphia, PA
College: Haverford College
Department: Clinical Operations
Company: Spark Therapeutics

Sameenah Ahmad

When Sameenah Ahmad started at Haverford College, she only had a vague idea of her future career. She considered following in her dad’s footsteps as a nurse, but that didn’t feel like her passion, and she wasn’t sure what other options were out there.

Career ideas started to crystallize by her sophomore year when she declared a biology major and soon began her Project Onramp internship. Sameenah’s internship was in the Clinical Operations (ClinOps) department at Spark Therapeutics, an integrated gene therapy company focused on inherited retinal diseases (IRDs), neurodegenerative diseases, as well as diseases that can be addressed by targeting the liver, such as hemophilia.

During her internship, Sameenah shadowed clinical trial associates working with teams doing Phase 1 and Phase 2 hemophilia clinical trials. The experience gave Sameenah an understanding of clinical operations and clinical trials and how these pieces fit into a biotechnology company like Spark.

Sameenah reported to two managers, one who led the Phase 1 & 2 team and another in charge of Phase 3 trials. Yet, she felt like she had mentors everywhere. Team members across all departments at Spark took an interest in teaching her about the company and industry.

“No matter who I talked to, I genuinely felt supported, and I talked to a lot of people, so that was really positive.”

The people at Spark were understanding and welcomed her every step of the way. Even though everyone was incredibly busy, nobody seemed too busy to help Sameenah learn something new or gain valuable insight into clinical operations and life at a biotech company.

“Now I have so much more insight into what I could be doing, what companies I like, and how I want to be treated,” she explained.

“Going from not knowing what ClinOps is to saying that now I think that’s what I want to do was a really big deal for me.”

Sameenah’s internship concluded with a final presentation to Spark employees, including the company CEO. She presented her experience on the ClinOps team, the projects she worked on, and what she learned. As someone who doesn’t usually like public speaking, presenting was a great learning opportunity that helped her acquire a new skill.

Sameenah loved her time at Spark and wants to try internships at different companies to gain a wider array of experiences and be better equipped for a future career in ClinOps. But she definitely would be thrilled to end up at Spark someday.

“Spark made my experience so amazing. It was such a good job, and I was always happy to go to work.”

The internship and working with the team at Project Onramp have been a game-changer for Sameenah. As a first-generation college student, Sameenah explained that she can’t just ask her parents for help finding an internship, so having the Project Onramp team on her side has been instrumental.

“It’s comforting to know that I have that support, especially with internships that are so hard to find. In areas like biology, I feel like I’m one in a million applicants and never get seen. Project Onramp helped me be seen.”

She especially appreciated the team’s effort to find her a great match. “It shows that there are other people invested in my future. Knowing that I am not alone and that other people are trying to help me means the world to me.”

Sameenah is grateful for the opportunity Project Onramp provided her in finding this internship, and she wishes everyone had the opportunity to work with Project Onramp.

“Whoever came up with Project Onramp is a genius, and I greatly appreciate it.”

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Home Town: Philadelphia, PA
College: UPenn
Department: Lab
Company: Spark Therapeutics

Phoenix Garcia-Ramos

University of Pennsylvania senior Phoenix Garcia-Ramos has always been fascinated by science. They recall being a middle school student in the inner city of Philadelphia and wanting to learn more about weather cycles. So, it was only fitting that Phoenix went on to attend a science and engineering high school. Today, they’re majoring in neuroscience at UPenn.

Despite their impressive academic achievements, college wasn’t always a sure thing for Phoenix. They credit an organization called Philadelphia Futures for helping them get into college. When that same organization reached out a few years later, encouraging them to apply for a life sciences internship through Project Onramp Philadelphia’s pilot cohort, Phoenix took their advice.

Phoenix landed a summer internship in the histology lab at the rare disease biotech company Spark Therapeutics. Not only was this their first time working in industry, but it was also their first time working in a histology lab.

“I was really nervous because I was the only one in my family with experience in this fancy biotech industry. I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.”

Luckily for Phoenix, the team at Spark was kind and supportive. They made sure Phoenix learned different histology methods and other transferable research skills. By the end of the summer, Phoenix was working independently and feeling confident in their abilities.
Throughout the experience, Phoenix also learned that asking questions and making mistakes is OK.

“As a first-generation college student, having an environment where people want you to ask questions was very scary at first. But they were super understanding, experienced, and qualified people who took the time to sit down with me and show me what they’re doing.”

For Phoenix, those connections were the most valuable part of the internship. Through lunch meetings, they also got to meet people in different departments, such as computational biology, logistics, and prediction/modeling.

“As a person who stutters, I don’t typically like to network or put myself out there due to fear of judgment. But everyone was super supportive and accommodated me. They prioritized one-on-one meetings to eliminate the social pressures and expectations, so it was just like having a very casual conversation. I didn’t face any judgment during my time at Spark,” Phoenix recalled.
Phoenix’s favorite part of the internship was the connection with their mentor, Kelly Quednau-Ekanger, a histologist. According to Phoenix, “Kelly has been one of the most amazing people.”

One moment with Kelly stood out to Phoenix. Spark was hosting a company resource meeting for people who are differently abled or disabled, and Kelly not only encouraged Phoenix to go but even came to the meeting with them.

The Project Onramp internship was also beneficial for Phoenix, as it helped them realize they would be open to working in the life sciences industry in the future.

“My end goal has always been to be in academia. So, being in industry was a refreshing change of pace because I got to know what it was like and not to knock it. Now, it’s not off the table. I would be open to working for a company in the future.”

Phoenix plans on taking a gap year or two to work in computational biology before getting their PhD.

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