Hana Coogan, an undergraduate student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, was recognized as the department’s outstanding senior. Hana is from Roanoke, Virginia and she focused on the biotechnology and food engineering paths in the department. She served as a BSE Ambassador for two years and is currently the acting president of the Virginia Tech chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and an active member of Alpha Epsilon, an honor society for outstanding agricultural, biological, and food engineers.

“I was over the moon when I heard the news,” Coogan said. “I was really excited and happy that people within the department felt that I represented what it means to be a BSE student. It made me feel good and the award gave my hard work a little more meaning.”

After graduation, she will be working as a full-time process engineer in the U.S. Continuous Improvement Department at The Hershey Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Coogan was first exposed to Hershey’s in June 2019 when she began her 15-month co-op. During her co-op, she worked as a food scientist and utilized benchtop analysis, pilot plant work, and large-scale manufacturing to successfully execute a caramel dairy reformulation valuing $650,000 in annual savings. She also had the opportunity to travel and work in four plants along the east coast. 

“Working at Hershey’s was a great way for me to break out into the food engineering realm,” Coogan said. “I can’t tell someone that I work at Hershey’s without them reacting in a positive way and that excites me! I really like the work and the products make people happy.”

Hana Coogan
Hana Coogan, an undergraduate student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, was recognized as the department’s outstanding senior. Photo courtesy of Hana Coogan.

Coogan credits a major part of her success at The Hershey Company to Dr. Tess Thompson, an associate professor in the department. “I applied the concepts that I learned in her class at Hershey’s and I was solving problems that were similar to the basic transport problems that I learned in class,” Coogan said.

Coogan is thankful that she made the decision to major in BSE because, if she didn’t, she would’ve never been exposed to the world of food engineering. She joined BSE after attending an interest session as a freshman. She was drawn to the specific tracks within the major, as they helped her to better envision her career path. “Looking back, I would never switch to a different college of engineering department. I’d never leave BSE,” Coogan said. 

It was this dedication to the department that would inspire Coogan to become a BSE Ambassador her sophomore year. Coogan saw being a BSE ambassador as a chance to share the many opportunities that the department had with her fellow classmates. In her role as an ambassador, Coogan is tasked with providing information about the BSE major, the different pathways and course curriculum a student can take, and career and internship opportunities that students can receive with a BSE degree. Coogan and the rest of the ambassadors attend various recruiting events, host information sessions, and act as mentors. 

When Coogan reflected on the accomplishments she’s most proud of, she remembered an interaction that she had with an underclassman as she returned to complete her final year at Virginia Tech.  

“One of my mentees told me that I was one of the main reasons why she decided to major in BSE. She said that I seemed so happy to share the information and she could see my passion,” Coogan said. “At that moment, I felt whole. It reminded me how much of an impact that I, and all of the ambassadors, have. It was a full circle moment.”

Before Coogan graduates, she leaves underclassmen with this advice: “The more you show up, ask questions, participate, and put in the effort, the more you get out of your experience. Your professors and your classmates want you to succeed. So, make friends, be collaborative with others, help each other study; your life will be so much easier when you start making those connections.”

Written by Cameron Warren