Two local STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students had the opportunity to intern with a Round Hill business after a Loudoun Economic Development networking event connected the company’s President to a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) teacher.
Ray Vazquez, President of Vertex11, attended the Loudoun Cyber Meetup networking event where he met Chris Starke, an LCPS teacher. “I met Chris at one of the meetups and learned about the CyberSlam event he was pulling together,” Vazquez said about his first Meetup. “I had no idea about the work he was doing and the focus on cybersecurity in LCPS.”
Impressed with the thought leadership of the county and the incredible talent fostered in the STEM program, Vazquez wanted more information. “At the Meetup we learned about the Academies of Science and the desire that students had for internships,” Vazquez said. “We learned about the technical acumen of the students and were excited to explore the opportunity based on the presentation.” Vazquez felt his firm could benefit from such a program. “We learned that the students were getting access to AI/ML [artificial intelligence/machine learning] projects. It is an area that we do not have much thought leadership in at the moment at our firm, so it seemed like a great opportunity for the students to showcase their knowledge and contribute to our firm’s understanding.”
Vertex11, which offers cybersecurity, risk management, continuity of operations, and data protection tools for organizations worldwide, had close to 20 qualified students apply and, while the decision was difficult, Vazquez was able to narrow it down to the final two candidates. The interns, who are students of Lightridge and Riverside High Schools, as well as the Academies of Loudoun, were hosted for a six-week summer internship. Within their academic studies, they are exploring, researching, and developing ways to make new and meaningful contributions to STEM disciplines. Charged with a difficult challenge after stepping into a professional work environment, the interns showed confidence and maturity as they gained experience from and contributed great ideas to their professional colleagues, accomplishing the task they were assigned.
“Our interns were tasked with creating a high-level design for an AI/ML tool, to simplify the evaluation of third-party risk management questionnaires,” Vazquez said of the assignment. “A key component of a company’s success is their process of selecting vendors, clients, and other third parties. Many organizations and businesses have valuable data about their customers and internal and external processes that must be shared with third parties. The risk of breach and other issues could have a significant impact and result in fines, penalties, and reputation loss.”
Over the course of the internship, the students completed a workpaper and high-level design for an AI/ML tool, created data sources and built initial models to measure responses to calculate risk profiles of vendors, and developed recommendations and a high-level roadmap to further develop their ideas. Vazquez said his partners, fondly called the SWARM, are exploring similar programs in their local markets in Georgia and Florida.
When it comes to technical environments, Vazquez feels that other companies can benefit from working with LCPS. “We highly recommend that all companies in Loudoun County consider extending internships to the students at LCPS and the Academies of Loudoun,” he stated. “Access to emerging talent is difficult, but local businesses would be surprised at how much the students can bring to the table that would help their company and clients…this is a wonderful way of discovering talent and strategic new hires.”
Having never run an internship program before, Vazquez said he and his team learned some key lessons over the six weeks with the students. “Structure is important. Given how they operate at school, we had to adapt college-based internship programs to something more familiar to high school students,” he remarked. “This included further defining the objectives and the deliverables. If we left these a little open-ended, they would not have been as productive.”
Overall, Vazquez felt the program was a success and would like to run it again this year. “We will be doing this again in 2023. We found significant value from the students. Their insight and ability to contribute to a deliverable was impressive,” he beamed. “The students exceeded our expectations in grasping the business problem and the issues and demonstrated a significant amount of creativity in approaching the problem we gave them for the internship program.”
Loudoun companies looking to partner with LCPS should contact LCPS Partner, a program that works with local companies and organizations to extend learning beyond the classroom.
For more information on Vertex11, please visit www.vertex11.com.
For more information on LCPS Partner, please visit www.lcps.org/lcpspartner.