Deciding on an internship is a pivotal time in any student’s life. It’s a crucial step in determining whether their current field is the right fit, or if an alternate field would better align with their career goals and aspirations.
For Amy Conaway, a double major in English and Biology (specifically Molecular Biology and Biochemistry) at Middlebury College, one additional factor when selecting a summer internship program was to ensure the health and safety of her service dog, Maxie.
Earlier this year, Conaway began studying in the lab of Anna Konovalova, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Prior to Conaway starting the 10-week internship program, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity worked closely with Conaway and individuals at UTHealth to make arrangements for the intern, her service dog, and the laboratory environment. Key partners included: the Office of Safety, Health, Environment and Risk Management (SHERM), Heidi B. Kaplan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Konovalova.
“In collaboration with Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Konovalova, Amy and the laboratory staff, we conducted a detailed risk assessment of the laboratory and associated research activities and determined we could reasonably and safely allow Maxie to accompany Amy in the laboratory.” said Scott Patlovich, Dr.P.H., director of Environmental Health and Safety. “This was an important experience and learning opportunity for Amy, but since she wanted to work in a laboratory setting where biological and chemical agents are used, we took the time to clearly understand all of the potential risks in order to determine how to best meet Amy’s needs and protect Maxie and the laboratory environment.”
“Once we accepted Amy into the program, she had told us about her service dog and what measures her college had taken within a laboratory,” said Kaplan. “I then contacted SHERM and the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. They were easy to work with and helpful in informing us what changes we could make to be able to have both Amy and Maxie in the lab together. It was a great experience for everyone.”
“At Middlebury I had gone through this process for my organic chemistry class,” said Conaway. “That was our second laboratory experience but the first time we had to consider biological safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) for Maxie. The ADA coordinators at my college were phenomenal in working with my professors to figure out how to make accommodations possible for me.” The PPE for a service animal must be the same level as an individual when entering a laboratory. Maxie’s daily wear includes rubber-soled shoes for each paw, a shirt, “lab coat” vest and when required, eye protection.
While Conaway is in the lab, Maxie is close by, laying on her safety pad with spill protection underneath and tucked under the laboratory bench in her area. Conaway also educated other members of the lab Maxie’s role as a “worker” and ensured everyone knew not to pet Maxie or provide treats, as it would disturb the process of “working.”
At the end of her summer internship program, Conaway presented the project she had been working on for the past 10 weeks. “This summer Amy’s project was in biogenesis and maintenance of bacterial cell surfaces and their interaction and resistance to antibiotics,” said Konovalova. “Her project focused on the bacterial envelop; how bacteria creates a barrier to inhibit antibiotics from entering the cells and how bacteria maintains this barrier in their stress response and delayed gene expression to the antibiotics.”
“It was wonderful to see how everyone worked together to welcome Amy and Maxie this past summer. Everyone came together with open minds and had very practical conversations about what was needed for Amy, Maxie and the laboratory environment. The end result was much simpler than initially anticipated. I’m always excited when we can further promote an environment of inclusivity on campus,” said Deana Moylan, associate vice president of Diversity and Equal Opportunity.
For additional information about disability-related accommodations, contact the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity online or by calling 713-500-CALL (713-500-2255).