Co-op Students of the Year make meaningful impacts on their workplaces

Co-op student of the year award recipients
Co-op student of the year award recipients
Waterloo announces winners of annual award for co-op students from each of the six faculties

In 2023, the University of Waterloo Co-op Students of the Year made significant impacts including designing a new Ontario food security program, analyzing a waste collection calendar and creating a quality-of-life tool for at-risk patients.  

"Our students continue to make a tangible difference during their work terms," said Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE). "Their dedication to utilizing their work-integrated learning opportunities is inspiring. I eagerly anticipate the impact they’ll continue to bring to the workforce." 

Congratulations to the 2023 Co-op Students of the Year:  
  • Jessica Bohm, Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science  

  • Stephanie Davis, Faculty of Arts, Masters of Public Service  

  • Milena Gojsevic, Faculty of Science, Biochemistry 

  • Frances Hallen, Faculty of Engineering, Environmental Engineering  

  • Danielle Lebowitz, Faculty of Health, Health Studies  

  • Avery Sudsbury, Faculty of Environment, Environment and Business  

CEE announced and celebrated award recipients on March 20 during a hybrid virtual and in-person ceremony. The annual Co-op Student of the Year awards celebrate students for making a meaningful impact in the workplace. The Problem Lab awards recognize students who have identified and analyzed a strategically important problem affecting their employer.  

CEE also recognized the honourable mentions and Problem Lab Award recipients at the ceremony.  

"Congratulations to these outstanding students for making strong contributions to the organizations they’ve served," said Ross Johnston, executive director of Co-operative Education. "They continue to show the value co-op can have in setting students up for future success in the workforce and the learning experiences they gain."  

Announcing the 2023 Co-op Students of the Year  

Jessica Bohm (she/her), Faculty of Mathematics  

Jessica Bohm, a fourth-year computer science student, made a meaningful impact during her co-op work term at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, in winter and spring of 2023.  

As an ATLAS deep learning research assistant, Bohm utilized her analytical skills to conduct groundbreaking research that will contribute to evolving particle acceleration. 

Bohm had the opportunity to test a variety of machine models to determine their quality and performance. She demonstrated both her capabilities and resilience by accompanying this work with complex research. 

"Through my time (at TRIUMF), we learned that the models did perform quite well on certain aspects of the overall goal," Bohm said. "I was excited to hear that the work I had done, the research and development of these machine learning models, could be used in the final reconstruction process of the ATLAS data." 

Bohm worked in image segmentation for the development of ATLAS’s reconstruction software. The reconstruction aims to track data collected from the European Council for Nuclear Research’s (CERN’s) Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world. Particle accelerators are used to make radioactive materials used in research, technology and medicine.  

"I was shocked when I saw that there was an opportunity to work here as a student," Bohm said. "I was always in awe of the big detectors. Reading about them in the news and being able to be a part of it was exciting."   

Using her computer science knowledge throughout her co-op terms, Bohm developed skills in research, data analysis, machine learning and problem-solving. 

Learn more about Bohm’s story.  

Stephanie Davis (she/her), Faculty of Arts 

Stephanie Davis believes that change, advocacy and representation are important words to live by in the world of public service. 

The second-year Master of Public Service student completed consecutive co-op terms, in spring and fall 2023, as a policy analyst for the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs Ontario (IAO). 

"I wanted to bring my perspectives and my lived experiences to the table," Davis said. "As a student with a disability, it’s important that there are people like me in public service making decisions because it reflects different populations." 

In her first month as part of a small team at IAO, Davis worked on various major files. She learned about the impact Indigenous Provincial Territorial Organizations make every day.  

"As someone who took Indigenous studies courses in my undergrad, including theoretical courses on Indigenous law, it was wonderful to bridge that into a professional environment and work in a job where my academic knowledge matched up exactly to the job requirements and what I needed to do," Davis said.  

During her co-op work term, she worked with other ministries - including the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport - to collaborate on a new food security program. Her work helped to address the staggering funding concerns in Indigenous food programing.  

"Walking the path of Truth and Reconciliation is important to me, it’s something I do in my everyday life," Davis said. "Being able to take that into a professional environment was a big personal goal and it felt like a great responsibility that I was privileged to be able to take on." 

The care Davis put into creating an inclusive environment also allowed her to impact IAO from an internal standpoint. For example, she had the opportunity to instill workplace practices that promote inclusivity and access for persons with disabilities. She also provided insight to first-year students about the co-op process and supported her manager in hiring a new co-op student. 

Learn more about Davis’s story.  

Milena Gojsevic (she/her), Faculty of Science  

Milena Gojsevic’s research during her co-op work term at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre helped spark the development of the first quality of life tool for patients suffering from malignant spinal cord compression.  

As a clinical research assistant in winter and fall 2023, Gojsevic, a third-year biochemistry student, took pride in making a real-world difference. She valued the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking research, help patients and support colleagues in her role. 

"It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It’s something I hope to continue throughout the rest of my co-op terms," Gojsevic said. 

In formulating the quality-of-life tool, Gojsevic took the initiative to review nearly 200 research studies. She collaborated with the European Organization of Research in Cancer Treatment to publish the findings in the Supportive Care in Cancer Journal. Over her two work terms, she supported six different publications and was the primary author for three of them. 

"I felt very honoured to be working on that project and to be making some kind of contribution to something that will impact countless numbers of people’s lives if developed," Gojsevic said. "Two years ago, when I came to the University and the co-op program, I wasn’t expecting to be leading my own studies or to contribute in such a profound way. Or, to have my own publications as an undergraduate student." 

Learn more about Gojsevic’s story.  

Frances Hallen (she/her), Faculty of Engineering 

During her work term as a renewable energy development intern at EDF Renewables ,  Frances Hallen engaged with communities, conducted research and learned about the simultaneous use of land for solar panels and agriculture (agrivoltaics).  

In spring 2023, Hallen, a fourth-year student in the Environmental Engineering program, assisted in the development of solar and wind facilities across North America.  

"Being in environmental engineering, I was interested in looking at system infrastructure and the greater impacts that it has on different communities," Hallen said. "Renewable energy came up as something that could target all those things. It made me feel like I could make an impact in many ways." 

One way that Hallen made an impact was through her research in solar and agriculture land use. Her research on land displacement for corn ethanol could help increase the energy value of the ethanol and double the agricultural productivity of the land.  

Her research saved more than $7,500 an acre in social value (a measurement of the positive impacts a change brings to society). Hallen’s successes led her to support publications with the Pace Energy and Climate Centre, a leader in educating the future of environmental energy.  

In her role, she also initiated a partnership between EDF Renewables and Agrivoltaics Canada. The successful partnership demonstrates her skill and initiative in networking with government regulatory agencies and teams across the continent. 

Hallen believes that demonstrating the possibility of making land productive using solar panels, while also engaging in activities like farming or animal raising, is an exciting way to show communities how they can sustain their family traditions while contributing to society.  

"To know that engineering plays a role in identifying problems and finding solutions was exciting," Hallen said. "It’s what drove me to study environmental engineering. The energy industry is where there’s a lot of room for improvement. That’s a place that I really wanted to be in." 

Learn more about Hallen’s story.  

Danielle Lebowitz (she/her), Faculty of Health 

Providing a lifesaving experience to her patients, and exceptional support to her coworkers, defines Danielle Lebowitz’s time as a genetic counselling assistant at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Lebowitz, a fourth-year health studies student, contributed to her long-term passion for genetic counselling by excelling as a member of Sunnybrook’s staff for eight months. 

"The biggest impact that I felt was from patients. I never realized how much of a positive impact I could have on someone’s life before. There was one time someone told me that I saved their life because I gave them access to a preventative measure that’s going to help them figure out if they will get cancer or not."

"Sunnybrook is an amazing institution," Lebowitz added. "I was like, ’I’m going to Waterloo, I’m getting this co-op role and I’m going to become a genetic counselor.’ That was in grade 12. I curated all my co-op opportunities to gain the skills I thought they would want."

During her co-op work term, Lebowitz had the opportunity to analyze eight different genes and the cancer risks associated with their mutations. Her research had a big impact. It motivated Sunnybrook to update its patient and physician handouts to reflect newer 2023 mutation guidelines. Seeing the real-world impact of her work motivated her to excel. 

"Because I was so interested in pushing past the generic responsibilities of the job, I worked much faster and more efficiently to get to that place where I could ask them for more opportunities," Lebowitz said. "Their investment in me was something that increased my confidence and told me that I can be the person they know I can be." 

Lebowitz presented a published article to Sunnybrook physicians to encourage them to implement a molecular tumour board (MBT) - a panel of expert physicians, scientists and other experts in the field to share expertise on the topic. Lebowitz made the case that an MBT would help Sunnybrook connect a patient’s genomic sequencing results with a curated treatment plan. The physicians approved Lebowitz’s pitch, and she was invited to present it to other groups. Sunnybrook plans to use the framework Lebowitz crafted to implement its own MBT. 

Learn more about Lebowitz’s story.  

Avery Sudsbury (she/her), Faculty of Environment  

During her work term with the Region of Waterloo, Avery Sudsbury focused on saving money, materials and the environment. 

In the winter and spring of 2023, the fourth-year student in the Environment and Business program, researched waste collection, waste diversion and various waste processes across Ontario to find a sustainable model for Waterloo region.

This research included a major study on the Region’s organic food waste program where she analyzed data and customer service cases and conducted waste audits to record contamination levels.  

To gain a perspective on practices the region could implement, Sudsbury’s supervisors had her visit the City of Guelph to analyze their compost process. Here she liaised with waste professionals and influenced her to conduct a report on the processing of Waterloo’s organic waste. The report considered how contaminants impact homes and the waste facility, which concluded that citizens should prioritize reducing waste through recycling and organic composting. 

"When I’m doing my research into what other municipalities are doing and how we can find the best practices for Waterloo, it’s really important to get that first-hand experience in those other municipalities," Sudsbury said. 

On top of weekly landfill gas monitoring and reporting duties, Sudsbury also worked on a project to address accessibility concerns with the region’s waste collection calendar. Her goal was to make the calendar accessible to the largest demographics using only one medium.  

"Personally, if I get it (the waste collection calendar) in the mail, I’m using my Google calendar, and it ends up in my recycling," Sudsbury said. "I wanted to see, is this common for a lot of people? What are the accessibility concerns? How do we best reach the people who want those calendars without creating mass waste?" 

Sudsbury’s project influenced the region to account for other forms of distribution, like an online calendar, and consider printing fewer calendars, a solution that would create less waste and be more cost efficient.  

Her co-op experience gave Sudsbury the opportunity to develop a forward-thinking perspective on waste education and expertise on improving our environment.  

Learn more about Sudsbury’s story.  
Cameron Stirrup