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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the spring semester wound down, Juliette Belanger‘s summer job prospects were in doubt.

A rising junior with the George Washington University women’s water polo, Belanger had hoped to find a government internship in her native Canada before the COVID-19 pandemic closed off most opportunities geared toward her Civil Engineering major. Her backup plan was to find work as a lifeguard, but with most pools closed, that was no sure thing, either.

“I was starting to get nervous I wouldn’t have anything,” Belanger said.

Late in the game, Belanger landed an offer from the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. The national government’s primary research and development organization was, in fact, still taking on summer interns. She was added to the Engineering Division working under the office of the vice president, but since most of its operations were working at half capacity, she was assigned to the newly-created COVID-19 task force.

Belanger jumped at the chance to get involved. The NRC shipped the Ottawa native a computer in mid-May, and she’s been working from her home office ever since to aid the organization’s efforts focusing on the decontamination of N95 masks.

It is part of the NRC’s Pandemic Response Challenge program meant to fast‑track research and development aimed at specific COVID-19 gaps and challenges identified by Canada’s health experts.

“It’s very cool to be a part of this,” said Belanger, who was recently tabbed to the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) All-Academic Team. “I’m just really grateful that I got this opportunity and that I’m able to execute what they’re looking for and that we’re actually making progress in the pandemic.”

At the start of the pandemic, the shortage of medical personal protective equipment spurred groups across the country to get to work developing systems designed to decontaminate the N95 masks worn by healthcare workers.

Belanger is part of a team tracking those efforts. The data is part of the push to get a full evaluation of the machines in order to get them into health care facilities across Canada to aid the fight against COVID-19.

Utilizing Zoom meetings and a full array of web-based applications, Belanger has worked with her new coworkers to catalogue information about the systems into various tables and put together presentations with the data.

Lately, she’s spent much of her time developing a cost calculator that compares the products against each other and also vs. the price of new masks.

Heading into the final week of the internship, Belanger is glad she signed on to be part of the NRC COVID-19 task force.

Beyond the importance of the work, it’s been an eye-opening experience for the daughter of two civil servants working in a government setting for the first time, and the green aspects of the decontamination initiative fits with her interests and coursework towards a concentration in Environmental Engineering.

“Any work experience is good work experience,” Belanger said. “I love doing volunteer hours, especially when I’m learning something new. Any type of job where you’re not doing what you do every day gives you useful skills, and I think that’s why this summer has definitely helped me grow.”

Release courtesy George Washington University Athletics Communications

Collegiate Water Polo Association