(Intern Kalani Wijesinghe)

XenaMed is an early stage pharmaceutical research and development company currently working to secure FDA approval for their oral dosage tablet.

As the tablet project started to ramp up last winter the XenaMed team was looking forward to bringing in their newest analytical chemistry intern, Kalani Wijesinghe, to help them prepare for clinical trials.

Wijesinghe is the fourth student that XenaMed has hired through the SciTech Internship Program. In addition to the wage reimbursement that SciTech offers, the program also grants small companies exclusive access to premium STEM talent. And as any employer will tell you, finding the right person for the job is crucial.

This was Wijesinghe’s first internship but she came to the opportunity with experience as an undergrad research assistant and a lot of enthusiasm to learn.

“From Kalani’s resume, it was very evident that she had a lot of what we were looking for: someone who has a heart and passion for the pharmaceutical industry,” said Sara Treder, a Pharmaceutical Analytical Chemist at XenaMed. “It’s really exciting to give someone experience who is looking forward to learning more about the industry, because a lot of what we do you can’t learn in school.”

Learning and leading
Wijesinghe started by learning how to make chemical solutions for the oral dosage tablet. As a trial and error process, the solutions didn’t always work and it sometimes took several attempts to get them right. “But everyone was really helpful and friendly,” Wijesinghe recalled. “They trusted me and they encouraged me to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Instructing and collaborating with Wijesinghe was a learning experience for Treder as well. “I’m glad that I’ve had time to work with Kalani.” Treder said. “Sometimes we’re finding new things that I don’t even know how to fix, so we learn how to fix them together.”

Working with XenaMed’s interns helped Treder develop as a leader, she said, especially when it came to communication. “Everyone learns differently, so seeing how Kalani learns helps me adapt how I explain things to meet her needs. Through this program, and all the interns we’ve had, I’ve learned how to present this material to the appropriate audience.”

Finding pride in your work
Wijesinghe has progressed considerably since her internship began. When the COVID-19 stay-at-home order went into effect, she not only transitioned from lab work to research assignments, but the new projects she took on were now all her own.

“I have more responsibility now,” Wijesinghe said. “I’ve learned how things work and have developed an accountability here. I’m proud of where I am today.” As the interview concluded, Wijesinghe shared the exciting news that XenaMed’s CEO had recently offered to keep her on in a permanent position. Once her internship ends Wijesinghe will transition to full time work. This is an opportunity, she said, that won’t be taken for granted.

“I feel really proud of that accomplishment because I know how hard it is for new graduates to find a job. SciTech helped me find XenaMed and I’m really grateful for that.”

“With the demand of our work right now, Kalani has really stepped up to help with the testing,” Treder said proudly. “The two of us have worked well together, me from afar and her in the lab. Not only did she prove to me but she proved to our team that she can deliver those results.”

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