Ricky Ramsaran says that when he was a boy whenever the power went out during a thunderstorm, he and his sister would chase each other around the house, shining a flashlight on each other.

He never thought that one day a power outage would be serious work.

Recently, Ramsaran landed an internship at Con Edison, New York’s major power company, where he and his team worked in the Bronx, analyzing why electrical cables fail.

“I loved how the job reflected what I was learning at MIT, and it gave me a heads up to what I would be learning in the future,” he says. “The best part of the job was getting industry experience.”

Ramsaran recently participated in MIT’s Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP), an internship program for engineering sophomores that prepares students for jobs in industry and government and gives them a chance to gain leadership skills while actually working in the field. The one-year program, run by the School of Engineering, includes a 40-hour corporate training workshop, a series of job seminars taught by alumni, and a 10-week summer internship. “The program taught me how to network, find a job, and even dress for the interview,” he says.

The summer he worked at Con Edison, there was a 10-day blackout in Queens. Ramsaran’s workload tripled.

“An internship is so different from just sitting in class,” he says. “You could get an A on a problem set, but just knowing the math doesn’t always help when you’re doing actual work. Field work is much more challenging because you’ve got to come up with another solution.”

Another aspect of the job he appreciated, he says, was that in the lab he developed friendships and enjoyed the camaraderie of interns and engineers. “When you’re just sitting in a classroom, it’s not really an opportunity to connect with people in the same way.”

Blending an internship with class work is a necessary mix, he adds. “You can do hands-on work, but if you don’t know the theory, you’d be lost. It’s great to have both experiences.”

The job helped him to clarify his life’s work. “I learned that I am interested in energy, but not in the power failures. After this job, I became really interested in solar energy because there’s less chance of failing, and it’s not so dependent on power companies.

“Now, I want to pursue a career in solar energy, making it cheaper for people and more available.