The Co-op Community, an incubator for success

The recent announcement of the 2021 UNSW Alumni Award winners has shone a spotlight on the UNSW Co-op Program, a unique scholarship program that offers access to a strong and successful community opening a world of opportunities for eligible scholars. 

William On and Robert Hango-Zada

Co-op scholars all have key characteristics in common; they are passionate, motivated, and ambitious with leadership potential. They are also strong academic performers and can maintain a healthy balance of extra-curricular activities throughout their time in the program. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that for the past two years, several nominees for the UNSW alumni awards were from the Co-op alumni pool. In fact, for two years in a row now, the winners for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship category have been awarded to Co-op alumni namely William On and Robert Hango-Zada (2021, pictured above) and Moses Lo (2020). 

As alumni of the Business School, Rob and Will first met during their studies and stayed in touch with each other throughout the early years of their professional careers. Their experience, combined with their studies, laid the groundwork for their successful business collaboration. 

“The experience we got from doing Co-op at a very early start – I think I was 19 when I started at IBM – and when I left the Co-op program, I had three placements under my belt, so I had a three-year head start on everyone. And using those experiences, they still tie into how we run the business today,” recalls William On, Co-Founder & Joint CEO of APAC’s fastest growing shipping platform, Shippit. 

Co-op scholars meet their cohort on day one of the four-year program allowing relationships to be developed across disciplines. Events such as the ‘Mentor Meet & Mingle’ speed mentoring evenings help strengthen these opportunities. One scholar said, “meeting a range of mentors from different industries and streams was really worthwhile, especially to hear their Industry Training experiences and how Co-op has helped them develop personally and professionally.” 

New and continuing connections are forged throughout their journey within this supportive community including the Co-op Society, and scholars and alumni alike are eager to give back, pay-it-forward and contribute to broader social impact.  

The Co-op Society, which includes the Co-op Scholars Charitable Society, sponsors an award (a one-off scholarship) for disadvantaged students coming to UNSW, and continues to run fundraising and social impact activities to support a variety of charities. 

Photovoltaics Co-op scholar Darcy Small co-founded the Bugisu Project (now Kua) while at UNSW with fellow Engineering student Brody Smith, receiving the Global Student Entrepreneur Award for their non-profit, zero-waste coffee supply service. While the project was in its infancy, they received support from the UNSW Accelerator program and philanthropic donations to keep it progressing. Despite the core team being unpaid, they were persistent and "committed to the year as growing professionally through starting a social enterprise.”

Adam Hegedus, a Commerce Info Systems Co-op cofounded Educating the Future (ETF) in his first year at UNSW. A not-for-profit organisation, ETF’s vision is for a world in which all children can access quality education to reach their true potential. In Timor-Leste ETF collaborates with the Ministry of Education to provide pre-school education infrastructure built by local communities and run by the Municipal Government.

Alumna Rebecca Lucas, in her current role as Global Marketing Manager, Unilever, leads a team crafting Dove’s purpose for the planet – its positive environmental impact which spans across projects that include no plastics, no animal testing, climate change and more recently on supporting forest restoration. 

Alumni have also been invited to participate in Career Chats, building on a virtual library available to all students – particularly prospective students – to provide insight into a wide range of professions and industries as a practising professional in the field, before they decide on and shape their degree at University.

The Co-op community is robust with lifelong networks that will continue beyond graduation. “Some of the things that I have done with fellow Co-op scholars: I started a company, I ran a company, I sold a company, I won an Emmy with other Co-op scholars. These have been, without any doubt, some of the most formative relationships in my life,” says Luke Tristram, Senior Product Manager, Apple. 

Now sponsors of the Co-op Program, Will On reflects, “the people around you will be the business leaders of tomorrow.” Rob Hango-Zada adds, “You are really launching not only your careers in Co-op but also the relationships you are going to keep with you for life.”

A position in this Program opens unparalleled educational, development and professional opportunities. Do you know an outstanding high school student? Encourage them to apply. 51% of students find out about the Co-op Program from Career Advisers. Applications for the next round of scholars are now open, closing 30 September. For more information, visit the Co-op website