Johnny Tran initially wanted to pursue a medical career because of his interests in human biology and helping people.
“I’ve also always loved understanding and learning how machines work and to critically think through obstacles,” he said. “Combining these interests, I discovered biomedical engineering, which incorporates medicine into engineering.”
Tran chose College of DuPage because he wanted to save money by taking his general education courses before transferring. He then received the STEM Student Success Scholarship, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, which included tuition, fees and support systems specifically for recipients.
“This scholarship was one of the greatest opportunities given to me at COD,” he said. “Susan Fenwick, my STEM coach, provided huge support for me through my time at COD. Whether it was guiding me through my transfer process, offering advice for being successful, and even listening when I needed to vent, she was always there when I needed help. This scholarship program also provided faculty mentors who offered great advice about career plans and personal connections.”
In addition to his academics, Tran immersed himself in COD. First he found a job as a student worker in the Student Life office, where his duties included being a receptionist, informing students of campus-wide events and encouraging students to become involved on campus.
“Student Life has the best student jobs on campus,” he said. “I was always excited to walk into work. The office was very fun and social and I got to meet many different people from the orientation program, leadership program and even other clubs. I was also able to improve my written and verbal communication skills and develop strong leadership skills.”
The Student Life staff encouraged Tran to get involved, so he joined the Engineering and Technology Club (ETC) and the Asian Student Association (ASA).
“When I first joined ETC, I met a lot of older students who offered me specific advice on becoming a successful student. I also met students who were taking the same classes as me. This allowed me to form student groups that honestly helped me survive some of my rigorous courses.”
He also became ETC’s marketing officer and was responsible for creating projects where club members could test their hands-on engineering skills. One project included a catapult competition where members launched pumpkins across a field. Another responsibility was to recruit members through promotional events and social media.
The experience gave Tran opportunities to grow as a leader, as did his work with ASA, for which he became the president. He was encouraged to join by his Chemistry professor, Lubna Haque, and he wanted to become a part of a community where he could reconnect with his Vietnamese cultural background.
“ASA was the biggest contribution to my growth as a leader,” he said. “I was faced with many obstacles, such as gaining the trust of my team, achieving group goals, organization and personal limitations. However, I was able to overcome these challenges with the support of my team, Student Life and friends. As a group, we were able to achieve our goal to promote Asian diversity by hosting a variety of events.”
After earning his Associate in Engineering Science degree, Tran is spending the summer as an undergraduate research intern at the Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. He obtained the position through one of his mentors through the STEM Student Success Scholarship. Due to COVID-19, Tran is working remotely with Professor Jeff Snyder’s Thermoelectrics group, which focuses on furthering the science and improving the technology of thermoelectrics. Tran is using machine learning to discover and optimize new materials from experimental data while collaborating with researchers from Chicago, San Francisco and Tokyo.
In the fall, Tran is transferring to the University of Illinois at Chicago and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering. His dream is to become a product manager and work on advanced prosthetics that are controlled through wearable sensors capable of feeling touch or artificial organs that could help alleviate the issue of scarce organ donations.
As for COD, Tran advises students to seek out as many resources as possible.
“To really be successful, you have to build connections, improve teamwork and develop leadership,” he said. “Become involved, whether that is through clubs or organizations. Be adaptable—if you are not successful as a student, try a different method and improve from the last. Giving up should not be the first option. As long as you are persistent, you will achieve your goals.
“As far as my experience goes, COD’s Engineering program was very beneficial. The professors are very caring and knowledgeable, and the curriculum matches many big universities, which makes the transfer processes seamless.”