For more than 40 years, Rochester-based Pharmaceutical Specialties has manufactured products suitable for people with sensitive skin. The company’s founders took on this endeavor after it was suggested by several dermatologists that they forgo their careers as hospital pharmacists to instead make better products than were commercially available. From sunscreen to hair and skincare, the company now distributes throughout the US and internationally, gaining the most recognition for their Vanicream brand.
“Each product is made specifically for people with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Grant Schuth, co-owner of Pharmaceutical Specialties. The products are free of dyes, fragrance and masking fragrance, parabens, lanolin, and formaldehyde. Each one is tested for quality, value and effectiveness.
Since 1974, the company has experienced significant growth. Pharmaceutical Specialties’ team now includes over 75 full and part-time employees, and regularly brings in new interns as well.
“We are always looking for good interns,” Dr. Schuth said. “It’s an ideal place to learn.”
Dr. Erik Kuester, a chemist at Pharmaceutical Specialties, echoed the sentiment, adding, “I really enjoy that we can teach these young scientists the things that we do, how we do it and why we do it, to see them learn and grow.”
This last summer, Dr. Kuester worked alongside Hannah Walker, a Rochester native and junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, during her internship as a Quality Control Assistant.
Walker majors in Materials Science Engineering. Interning with Pharmaceutical Specialties allowed her to put class theories into practice through hands-on experiences.
“Having a specific industry-based internship is great,” Walker said. “In class you learn about the general concept of the idea, and once you get here, you actually get to try it out.”
The Value of an Industry-Based Internship
Internships present students with the opportunity to work on machines, materials or projects that would otherwise be hard to access in a school environment. It was Walker’s aspiration to put classroom theories to work that moved her to find her first industry-based internship through SciTech.
“This is my first job that relates to my major,” Walker said. “In school, you learn how to set something up but don’t actually get to work on projects hands-on.”
For 10 weeks during her internship, Walker worked alongside Dr. Kuester and other expert chemists, an experience she believes will be valuable going forward.
“In the lab, I like that I can ask lots of questions and everybody is patient -and even asks if I have more questions,” said Walker. She believes that her course work will be more understandable now, given the rich experience through her work at Pharmaceutical Specialties.
“Now that I have an understanding of why things are done, I can reverse engineer my school work and it’ll make more sense.”
What Does a Quality Control Internship Look like?
Walker’s time at Pharmaceutical Specialties was relatively busy. She worked alongside a qualified staff that helped her remain engaged, navigating through different assignments.
“We have a list of different tests that go on back in the lab,” Walker explained. “Every week I have at least four to five tests for which I read through the Standard Analytical Procedures and then I watch another chemist do it. Once I get trained on it, I’ll do it myself.
“When I get here every day, the first thing I do is check the stability tests, which are tests the QC lab does to ensure the longevity of the products. Then I can work on any newly manufactured products that come in and need to be tested. I run IRs, test pH, specific gravity and other chemical properties,” Walker said.
The process, she explained, was a learning curve, that involved trying out tests that at times didn’t work as expected. “That’s what an internship is all about -trying it, and making a lot of mistakes until I can figure it out. I keep trying until it works and then I can get signed off as trained on that specific test.”
By working with an easily approachable staff, practicing her trade, asking questions, and having Dr. Kuester’s dedicated engagement to guide her, Walker’s internship experience solidified her aim to pursue her Material Science Engineering major.
SciTech will support at least 300 internships in 2017-2018 where employers can receive a 50% wage match worth up to $2,500. These internships help employers build their talent pipeline and ramp up productivity while providing students with valuable hands-on experience and opportunities to solve real-world challenges. SciTech aims to prepare and retain Minnesota’s STEM workforce by connecting STEM college students to internships that enhance their industry experience, and gives them exposure to opportunities within the state.