Co-op Students of the Year make a difference in changing workforce

Thursday, March 9, 2023
Six students holding certificates.

The University of Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) announced the winners of the annual award for co-op students today in a hybrid in-person and virtual ceremony. Welcoming Ukrainian refugees, supporting out-of-this-world discoveries and shaping Canada's future in space are just a few of the many achievements of the 2022 Co-op Students of the Year.

Hosted by CEE, a global leader in co-operative education, the awards recognize the major impact students had in the workplace in 2022.

“Our students continue to have a positive impact on our employers across various industries,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) at the University. “These exceptional individuals have demonstrated their readiness to enter an evolving workforce. I look forward to seeing how they represent the University post-graduation.” 

Waterloo partners with industry to create co-operative education that prepares students to become change-makers and leaders. The co-operative and experiential education program at Waterloo is the largest of its kind in Canada, with more students than the next five biggest Canadian post-secondary co-op programs combined.

Meet the six recipeints of the 2022 Co-op Students of the Year Award:

  • Jeremy Ernest, Faculty of Arts, Master of Public Service
  • Jennifer Tsai, Faculty of Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
  • Breanna DeFreitas, Faculty of Environment, Geography and Environmental Management
  • Rachel Almaw, Faculty of Health, Health Studies
  • Alex Zhu, Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Financial Management
  • Isaac Cheng, Faculty of Science, Physics and Astronomy

“Our students demonstrate the value of work-integrated learning experiences in their personal achievements and the amazing successes they have with the organizations they work with. Their work makes an impact on the local, national and global stage,” says Ross Johnston, executive director of Co-operative Education. “I’d like to formally congratulate these outstanding students for their incredible achievements in 2022!”

CEE also recognized honourable mentions and Problem Lab winners, including Anthony Girmenia from the Faculty of Science. Girmenia, a third-year Physics and Astronomy student, worked as a research assistant at the University of Western Ontario’s Earth and Science Exploration department. After only 10 weeks in his role, he completed the first draft of a paper outlining the details of a computer simulation. Girmenia diagnosed and fixed bugs and created a data algorithm that boosts processing speed by more than 300 per cent.

"Waterloo students continue to flourish and adapt despite the continual changing circumstances in the world of work,"says Ross Johnston, executive director of co-operative education. "These honourable mentions made a tremendous impact and clearly exceeded expectations. They are talent to watch in the future."

Meet Isaac Cheng, 2022 Co-op Student of the Year Award - Science

Isaac Cheng

Growing up, Isaac Cheng went camping each summer and was fascinated by the night sky. He was inspired by an opportunity he had as a child to explore the sky with an astronomer. Cheng is also the 2022 winner of the Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada) Student of the Year Award. He is an honourable mention for the 2022 EWO Co-op Student of the Year Award.

 “The astronomer showed us the heart of the Milky Way. Sirius was the brightest star in the night sky. It was amazing to me,” Cheng says. “It really captured my imagination and led me to pursuing physics in university and hopefully beyond.”  

Cheng’s passion for astronomy led him to three co-op terms as a junior researcher at the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre, part of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). Cheng’s work during his winter 2022 work term was monumental in the development of the major CASTOR telescope.

The proposed telescope is one of Canada’s biggest astronomy endeavours and will replace the famous Hubble Telescope. Many expect it to revolutionize the world of astronomy and give unparalleled views of the universe.   

Under the guidance of Tyrone Woods and Dr. Patrick Cote, Cheng helped create an exposure time calculator (ETC) which simulates CASTOR’s in-sky performance.

“I am just humbled by the experience. These space telescopes are a world-wide effort and being able to contribute to a small part of it is amazing,” Cheng says. “It was a very rewarding project, and I am glad that I got the opportunity to work on such a big part of Canada’s future in space.”  

“Co-op is the best thing I could have asked for in my academic career," says Cheng. "My work terms allowed me to explore the different subfields that interested me, expanded my professional network, and offered me opportunities beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

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Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Co-op Students of the Year Award!

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