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Honors and Awards

Senior Adam Leung Named Co-op Student of the Year

Leung worked for medical device developer Hollister Incorporated

Adam Leung completed his co-op with Hollister Incorporated, a medical device developer based in Libertyville, Illinois. During two co-op experiences, one before and one during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leung, a senior pursuing both a bachelors and masters in materials science and engineering at Northwestern Engineering, managed both academic study and full-time paid work. At Hollister, he collaborated with senior engineers to help develop the foundational materials behind innovative medical devices and platforms that treat disease.

His hard work paid off. Leung received the Cooperative Education and Internship Association’s (CEIA) 2021 Cooperative Education Student Achievement Award, recognizing outstanding students who have excelled in or made significant impact in work-integrated learning. He is the first Northwestern Engineering co-op student to receive the honor.

Adam Leung“I am proud to honor a student from our Midwest region with the CEIA Cooperative Education Student Achievement award,” said Kelly Harper, vice president of CEIA’s Region 4 Midwest. “The Midwest region is the home to co-op's founding and represents a long tradition of cooperative education leaders across the nation and world. We appreciate all that Northwestern has done to build a solid co-op program that connects students like Adam to such wonderful experiences with organizations such as Hollister Incorporated. Experiential education allowed Adam an entrance to showcase his skills, talents, and abilities with a company that was willing to take attributes for his career success.”

Selected as the McCormick School of Engineering’s 2021 Walter P. Murphy Cooperative Engineering Education Student of the Year, Leung visited with Engineering Career Development to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic impact his co-op experience, why he’s now better prepared for job searching, and the benefits of working with experienced engineers.

Why did you decide to do co-op?

Co-ops presented a really interesting option as I started to look at internships, because you stay at a company longer. The projects you work on are bigger in scope and can last for months, rather than just 10 weeks. I ended up at Hollister primarily because they invited me for an interview after a fall ECD Career Fair. During that interview, I had a really good impression of the company, I learned a lot about their products, and it made me excited to accept their offer.

What did you learn about yourself during your co-op experience?

I learned how adaptable I could be. My first stint as a co-op was in summer 2019 and my second was the spring and summer of 2020. Weeks before I was supposed to go back for my second experience, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I remember that period was scary. I decided to go home to be with family in New York, thinking it would just be for a little while, but it ended up lasting months.

As a result, I worked remotely for Hollister. It was hard because my position was almost entirely lab work. I had to find different ways to contribute to projects. One of the projects where I felt impactful involved working with customer satisfaction data from a company survey. I developed code in Python that visualized and sorted the data to make it easier to analyze, which no one had done before. Working from home and having never used Python before, it was a challenge, but I was proud of the way I adapted to the circumstances.

What was your favorite project that you worked on?

During my first rotation, I did a simple project working on the flow behavior of polymers. I had to roll them by hand into a thin tube, then load them into a capillary rheometer, which is a tube-shaped device. A plunger then pushes down on the tubes, and the device measures the amount of force it takes to force the material out. It was a simple experiment, but I got a lot of unexpected data out of it that I could explore further.

Like all students in the co-op program, you alternated between classes at Northwestern and Hollister. What were the challenges and benefits of that structure?

The biggest challenge was syncing up my coursework with what I was doing at my job. I worked heavily on thermoplastic elastomers, a type of polymer, throughout my co-op, but I still haven't taken the introduction to polymers course due to scheduling conflicts. The technical work was something that I had to teach myself in the moment because I didn't have classroom experience. On the other hand, I learned about the flow behavior of polymers in summer 2019, which prepared me for a class I took on the topic the following winter. I had a better understanding of the material because I had that practical experience.

What was the most rewarding part of your co-op at Hollister?

Learning what it's like to be an engineer or a scientist in an industry setting. Before this co-op I didn't have any internship experience, so I didn't know what it was like working for a company in a technical role. Gaining that direct experience and being able to ask other people in my department questions about their day-to-day at the company was where I learned a lot.

How did that change when you worked remotely? Could you still network?

It was definitely hard. Before, if I had an issue with my testing, for example, I could easily stop by my mentor’s office or lab and just ask in person. When you’re remote, everything needs to be a full email or a Zoom meeting. It was a challenge. I tried my best to still be collaborative.

How did it feel to work alongside seasoned engineers who have been in the industry for several years?

During my first three weeks, I felt intimidated. Everyone in my department had PhDs. Over time though, I learned how everyone ended up in their roles, and realized that it’s not a straightforward process. My boss, for example, received his PhD in microbiology, but ended up heading this team of materials scientists. It was important to remind myself that while it feels like I have to have everything set in the right places to get where I want, that’s normally not how careers go. Unexpected things happen and so do unexpected opportunities.

What would you tell a first-time co-op student about how to prepare for the workplace environment?

Relax. It’s important to understand that people want to see you succeed. Also, be friendly with your coworkers.

How do you think being a co-op student differentiates you from other students in the job search?

I had a much easier experience applying for internships last fall compared to when I was a sophomore. I had so much work experience that helped me stand out to employers. I could point to my contributions to a company during nine months versus a traditional 10-week internship where you only work on small projects.

What’s next?

I’m graduating with my bachelor's in June, but I’m staying at Northwestern another six months to complete the five-year BS/MS program. After that I want to go in R&D or processing soft materials. I’d love to stay in the medical field. This summer I’m interning with Temptime, a subsidiary of Zebra Corporation. They create temperature sensitive labels for vaccines and other biological products. I love to find opportunities like that.