This is one of a regular series profiling the Drexel Co-op program, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019-2020.
Adam Eichen knows all too well the power of Drexel University’s co-op program.
After studying biomedical engineering as an undergrad at the University of Connecticut, he spent two years searching for a job that he was neither overqualified nor underqualified for.
“I would usually get two reactions for my résumé. It would either be, ‘Oh, you don’t have a high enough certification for this. You need a PhD,’ or they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re way more qualified than we need,’” Eichen said. “Then I went to this company and they were like, ‘We’re not hiring engineers. We’re full.’ But she goes, ‘Oh, but we did just make a spot for a Drexel co-op.’ I ran into that, like, two or three times.”
So, an idea started to formulate in his head. Maybe it was time to earn an advanced degree to make himself more competitive in the job market. And why not do this at Drexel, whose co-op program he’d already been hearing so much about from hiring managers?
So that’s exactly what he did, entering the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health System’s MS in Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Business program in late 2017.
When it was time to find a co-op, he once again felt the power. Eichen’s co-op advisor sent him a position open at Lockheed Martin’s Moorestown, New Jersey location — a company that
Eichen had applied to for a job several times in the past, once even driving a hardcopy of his resumé over in person, not realizing that it wasn’t that simple.
The co-op opportunity had only one sentence to describe it: “analyzing artificial intelligence techniques for defense applications.” The rest was stamped as “secret,” but Eichen was intrigued regardless.
“I was like, ‘This sounds awesome,’” he said. “So, I sent my little spiel and they answered me back that day, which was very shocking to me because I had applied to them quite a few times before… So upon being in the Drexel co-op program, I got a response that day.”
There was just one problem: Eichen didn’t have much experience in the tasks required for the job, which were centered around computer programming and conducting machine learning for artificial intelligence projects.
“So, I just basically crash-coursed myself on it and said, ‘I’m ready to do this. Give me a chance,’” Eichen said. “Apparently it was a convincing enough letter, because I got the [confirmation] the next day. So then I got thrust into it.”
The reason he got lucky, Eichen said, was the fact that the company was looking into a neurologically based way of conducting machine learning, and the supervisor for the co-op was also a biomedical engineer. But once he started in the position, Eichen no longer relied on luck. He learned the Python programming language and, by the end of his tenure, utilizing TensorFlow’s platform, showcased that he was able to get similar machine-learning results at a fraction of the speed.
“To be really good at this stuff, from my humble point of view, you have to have a really good understanding of how the human brain thinks,” he said. “To be able to put that into mathematical terms is not the easiest conversion.”
Eichen thought that before he might go more through the medical route of the industry side of his specialty, but he was instead offered a position at Lockheed Martin following his graduation this past term under the same operational umbrella as his co-op fell.
“It was a life-changing career moment for him because he thought he wanted to go one direction and was exposed to the work on this job and found out it was a better fit for him,” said Ken Bohrer, graduate co-op advisor and career counselor for the Steinbright Career Development Center, who worked with Eichen to find his position at Lockheed Martin. “That’s why co-op is so valuable.”
Bohrer said approximately 50 students at Drexel participate in the graduate co-op program each year. These jobs are usually hyper-focused on the student’s projected career path, he added, because graduate students only have one co-op during their tenure. That made Eichen’s situation rather unique — that he took a co-op that set him on a new path — but his intentions for why he wanted to co-op aligned with those of most graduate students, Bohrer said.
“When they want to participate, they know that the degree is really not enough,” he said. “They want the work experience before they graduate, and also get to build skills when going through the search.”
Sanipa Arnold, BS ’00, MS ’07, a lead engineer at Lockheed Martin and Eichen’s co-op mentor, said that as a graduate co-op, Eichen was clearly very serious about the position as well as motivated and self-sufficient.
“Adam was very independent, so I was very appreciative of that,” Arnold said. “Anything he asked was just trying to get me to understand what path he should go forward with, but it was very minimal. [He needed] very minimal guidance.”
Eichen’s open-mindedness and his willingness to rise to the occasion in learning new skills for the position were exemplary, Arnold added, and she would advise students in similar situations to exude the same traits in order to discover new possibilities for their career.
“He performed things that he’s actually out of scope to perform from his degree, so that was really a good accomplishment, too,” she said. “He pursued some programming efforts that allowed him to reach beyond his goals.”
Eichen said the benefits of doing a co-op in graduate school definitely depend on a student’s goals, but because he was hell-bent on working in industry, it made perfect sense and definitely worked out. After years of searching, he’s looking forward to starting his first job, and knows he has the power of Drexel to thank for that.
“I definitely felt like I was being taken more seriously as a Drexel co-op,” he said as compared to when he was applying for jobs after undergrad. “The name holds weight. … So, I advertise Drexel left and right. I basically tell people if you want a job, go to Drexel.”
About the Drexel Co-op program: Nearly all eligible undergraduate students at Drexel University participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different, six-month-long work experiences during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from hundreds of employers across the country and globally — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged opportunities.