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Photo of Gabrielle Ibrahim
2/07/2022

Co-op confirms BME undergrad’s career plans

Written By: Tom Ziemer

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It’s hard to say which was the bigger challenge for Gabrielle Ibrahim in 2021: navigating pandemic-enforced travel delays and restrictions to get to her cooperative education experience at Siemens Healthineers in Germany in the first place, or picking up a new programming language on the fly and learning the ins and outs of a range of medical devices upon arriving.

“It was definitely a little bit of a head spin,” she says.

But Ibrahim, an undergraduate majoring in biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, persevered through each and every hurdle and emerged with new skills and emboldened confidence in both her intended career path and her ability to traverse it.

Ibrahim spent the second half of 2021 with the global medical device and technology company’s Innovation Think Tank in the mechatronics products department, based in the small Bavarian town of Kemnath.

During her six-month co-op, she helped design new solutions to improve existing angiography and fluoroscopy imaging devices, visualized technological add-ons for a mammography device, and analyzed radiation leakage in X-ray collimators. In the process, she taught herself to program in the C# language for visualizing device designs in a simulation software and nailed a presentation for colleagues outside of her team.

“I realized what the real-life working world looks like. I learned so much,” she says. “I’ve really gained so much just being here and working here.”

And that’s precisely the point of engineering co-ops: acquiring on-the-job experience, testing knowledge learned in coursework and rounding out a professional toolkit that includes both technical acumen and so-called soft skills. The UW-Madison College of Engineering’s co-op program allows employers to interview and hire as many students as they’re interested in (provided the experiences they’re offering mesh with academic outcomes). Students get paid plus earn academic credit.

Roughly 85% of undergraduates in the college’s most recent graduating class completed at least one co-op or internship before earning their diplomas.

“Anytime we are talking to employers about wanting to increase their candidate pool or if they’re really trying to establish credibility with students, we talk to them about co-op and how no one’s a better ambassador than somebody who’s just spent a good six to eight months working side by side with other engineers,” says Stephanie Salazar Kann, an associate director in Engineering Career Services who oversees the college’s co-op and internship program.

Ibrahim leveraged her experience working on device prototypes and interacting with project clients in the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s design course sequence while interviewing with Siemens Healthineers. And she says many of the skills she developed in BME Design—assessing needs for clients, compiling design specifications and working as part of a team—translated directly to her work in Germany.

“The structure was really similar to how things work in real-life corporate environments, especially in a medical device company,” says Ibrahim, who transferred to UW-Madison as a sophomore with encouragement from her parents, both alumni. Her dad earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s in industrial engineering from UW-Madison.

Ibrahim, a senior who’s also spent time working in the lab of Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Filiz Yesilkoy, says her experience at Siemens Healthineers confirmed her plans to work in the medical device industry, either before or after adding a master’s degree. As a native of Indonesia, she particularly appreciated the company’s diverse environment—with fellow students from countries like Brazil, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Tunisia—and global infrastructure.

“I like what I’m doing. I really enjoy how what I do really impacts people’s health—I can see it,” she says. “I like that the thing I’m doing directly impacts those who are in need.”


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