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Ian Alexander Named Co-op Student of the Year

A biomedical engineering student, Alexander completed a co-op at TriSalus Life Sciences and Abbott

When he was deciding on a college, Ian Alexander picked Northwestern because of its co-op program.

Alexander made the right call.

Now preparing for the medical college admission test (MCAT) and looking at medical schools, Alexander completed a co-op divided into two quarters at TriSalus Life Sciences in Providence, Rhode Island, and two quarters at Abbott in Minneapolis. During his time at TriSalus, Alexander collaborated closely with the surgical oncology R&D team, researching methods of attacking the tumor microenvironment. Subsequently at Abbott, he further refined his research and development skills by contributing to the advancement of cardiac medical devices. 

Ian Alexander

In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Alexander was nominated by his supervisors at Abbott, and was awarded the Cooperative Engineering Education Student of the Year title for 2024.

Alexander sat down with Engineering Career Development (ECD) to reflect on the invaluable experiences gained during his co-op and their impact on shaping his future as an engineer.

What has co-op meant to you?

It exposed me to two different sides of my major and narrowed down what I want to do in my future career. I was able to experience both the research side of my major, biomedical engineering, and also the research and development for medical devices. I got to see two different doors. Essentially, that helped me narrow down what I want to do in the future.

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

I really do enjoy work, especially when it's something that I'm passionate about and I'm working on things that will directly impact people. It's very rewarding and valuable to be a part of something greater than yourself. So being able to contribute, not just in a small factor, but taking part in these big projects and knowing that this will one day directly impact the quality of someone's life. I found that rewarding work was something that I really enjoyed.

How much did the lab experience at TriSalus during the summer of 2021 help you since you had missed in-person education because of the pandemic?

The first co-op that I did was super beneficial because I experienced face-to-face

contact and I could ask questions on the fly when I was confused about stuff, especially as it related to the hard sciences that I was learning. I sat next to the primary investigator that I was directly working with and asked them questions when I was confused, such as, “I've never seen this before. This is familiar, but I didn't really get the full experience that I would have gotten in the classroom, so how do we apply this? What kinds of things can we do with this knowledge?” 

I was learning how to apply the knowledge and techniques that I learned online but did not practice hands-on due to the pandemic. It was nice to bridge that gap. Then, when I did finally come back to school, I had a different outlook on what I was learning and how to apply it, because I had seen how it was actually applied in a real-life work environment. 

Did that help you academically?

Absolutely. Both my co-ops helped me academically because I came back with a different lens and a different perspective than I went into it with. I know a lot of people say, “Oh, when am I ever going to use this?” But I saw the stuff that we learn does get applied. It may not necessarily be everything, but there are pieces from each class that you take that you do end up needing to apply in work. I learned that your classwork is important, and at one point or another you may need to apply it, even if you won’t need it in every setting.

I also learned how when and why you're applying things matters. My experience provided me a different lens to understand what I was learning and how to look at it. I no longer approach coursework as just something to memorize. Instead, I’m asking myself, “How am I going to use this in a future setting?”

How has Engineering Career Development helped you in this process?

I worked with career adviser Sarah Gross and she was awesome. Once I secured the co-op, she helped me work through the steps of getting into the program and making sure that I had everything I needed along the way.

ECD’s Introduction to Career Development course was also really helpful as I worked on developing my cover letters. It helped me feel more prepared before I even started applying. I had a good idea of what employers would be looking for, and I actually had good cover letter templates ready because of that course. I just made tweaks for whatever job I was applying for. It wasn't like starting from scratch. I had a good idea of what would be looked for and what I needed to include.