Sophomore computer science major Iris Gau spent the summer in Poland, working as a programmer for Katalyst Education, a non-profit specializing in digital tools for education. Katalyst provides free resources to K-12 students in Poland and is branching out to provide those same services for university students.
Gau worked on the development team for one of Katalyst’s main projects, the internationalization of OpenStax, the open textbook platform initiative which was started and is based at Rice. The project, called CNX/OPENSTAX, publishes free, high-quality university textbooks, helping to reduce higher education costs.
“The purpose of Katalyst’s project is to provide students with easily accessible but quality online textbooks,” she said. “The platform is currently only available in English, so I worked to modify the code base to be compatible with new locales.”
Gau said the experience was challenging, and helped her grow as an engineer.
“The internship was quite unrelated to any work I've done before in classes, because I was using different programming languages and had different objectives,” she said. “However, soft skills were necessary and in part from my time at Rice, I have had much experience working on teams.”
Gau also learned how Katalyst’s business is run. She met with managers and learned about how the company’s business plan was constructed. While she’s not sure what she wants to do for a career, she said she is interested in both education and computer programming.
“This internship was the perfect intersection of both,” she said.
In her free time, Gau visited other cities including Kraków, Gdańsk, Budapest and Prague. Although she didn’t speak Polish, everyone in the Warsaw office spoke English. She said they made it a priority to speak English when she was present, even if she wasn’t part of the conversation, so she would feel included.
“And my Polish friends and co-workers were also eager to teach me their culture and language, so I did pick up some basic Polish phrases.”
Gau found her internship through the Center for Career Development’s RiceLink site. She said her favorite part of spending the summer in Poland was immersing herself in the country’s culture, especially in Warsaw, where she was based, and being part of the Katalyst workforce.
“There are so many opportunities posted with the CCD site,” she said. “I really encourage other students to check the site, use filters to find what they’re interested in, and do research on companies that look like a good fit.”