As a child, Hannah Percely '21 was always interested in medicine and biomedical science. Later, attending a STEM magnet high school in Morris County, New Jersey, she prepared to embark upon a potential career as a health care professional or related field, searching for a university — and a career — close to home.
She found both.
Percely will graduate in May with a Stevens degree in biomedical engineering, then immediately join Fortune 500 company Colgate-Palmolive to enhance its array of personal care products.
"It's so wonderful to receive an offer from their very competitive training program," she says. "The perfect conclusion to my Stevens education."
The right school, the right internship
"My guidance counselor recommended Stevens right away," Percely recalls of the university-search process. "I came to visit the campus and fell in love with the place. I knew I wanted to attend a small school, where I could get to know my professors and the people in my classes and build bonds. I did not want to sit in a giant lecture hall for four years."
"Stevens was right for me."
Crucially, Percely also wanted to continue to competing in swimming during her college years — and Stevens' Division III program also proved a perfect fit.
She joined the varsity squad, swimming in a dozen different events while at Stevens and helping power the women's team to a 2020 Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) championship.
“Hannah is someone who exemplifies the student-athlete," says Stevens Athletic Director Russell Rogers.
"She has been an incredible teammate, co-worker and fellow student," agrees assistant swim coach Rebecca Mullen. "It is rare to have a student-athlete who is able to juggle so many things and do them all so well."
Inside the classroom, Percely began to realize medical school was not her preferred destination — that biomedical engineering was.
"I have always wanted to help people, but it became clear to me that I would best use my technical and problem-solving skills to translate research to the medical center and hospital environments," she says. "So that's where I began to focus my time and energy."
After her sophomore year, Percely contacted the Stevens Career Center and registered her resume with the Handshake job-matching platform.
Before long, Colgate-Palmolive was reaching out about a summer internship, which she accepted.
"They found me through Stevens," remembers Percely. "It worked out well."
All through that summer, and the following one as well, she commuted 20 minutes from home to the company's Piscataway, New Jersey campus, working full-time and gaining key experience behind the scenes of a healthcare and consumer products leader.
Then, after completion of what was effectively a two-year-long internship, the company extended another offer to continue working part-time through graduation.
"That was appealing to me, so I stayed on board," she says.
As senior year and decisions about a future career loomed, Colgate-Palmolive was once again the clear frontrunner in Percely's mind.
"They offer a rotational program for graduating seniors, for which you need to interview and apply completely separately," she explains. "It's highly competitive. They only accept two to three new trainees each year."
Following a round of interviews, a full-time position offer was extended in fall 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; Percely accepted. Post-graduation, she will rotate through multiple functions at the company, learning aspects ranging from design and manufacturing to marketing and quality control.
One to one-and-one-half years later, she will then receive a final placement in one of its operational divisions.
A senior design project to assist expectant mothers
Percely says she particularly enjoyed working on her required Stevens capstone senior design project. Her four-student team spent its senior year developing a more comfortable, more effective breast-feeding trainer for expectant mothers.
"I had really enjoyed my coursework in materials science, learning about biocompatibility and how things react within the human body and how different materials can be used to improve a product," she explains. "This project was all about finding the right blend of materials, design and user friendliness to help change people's lives. It was very exciting."
As part of the project, Percely was tasked with designing and printing a lifelike model of an infant's head for the training device.
"We worked with lactation consultants, with faculty, and with others in the field. I was truly translating my classroom learning into making things for the real world," she recalls.
During the university's annual Innovation Expo in April, bolstered in part by Percely's portion of the team presentation — she has long studied theater — the team took second prize in the competitive Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, splitting a $5,000 prize.
"This is such a taboo subject, so there is a huge gap in the market for helping people with this kind of device," she explains. "I believe people will continue to look at the idea and product, and develop it further, in the future."
"That makes me happy."
Athletics success, community service, career preparation
While balancing her work, athletics and studies, Percely also remained active in campus affairs.
In addition to competing in the pool, she twice served as president of Stevens' Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), working with athletes, coaches, university leadership and external partners such as the MAC conference to give feedback on legislative initiatives and initiate outreach to the local Hoboken community.
"We did food drives, worked with local schoolchildren," she explains. "We are each part of this community. It gets lost on students sometimes that you're living here, you are not separate from this place, and you should be helping if you can."
"I'm so proud that I could help our Stevens athletes connect to their community."
"Her leadership in the Advisory Committee is another way she has served our department and her fellow student-athletes," says athletic director Rogers. "Hannah is one of those people you can depend on to do the right thing. We are very fortunate to have had her represent Stevens as a student-athlete."
Percely also credits faculty mentors such as biomedical engineering professor Vikki Hazelwood with making her Stevens education special.
"Dr. Hazelwood was so helpful, helping us transition from an academic mindset to the working environment. She gave us guidance, helped us understand that we must be prepared for real life," Percely says. "She helped us understand what to expect next, both the positives and the challenges."
"Having professors who truly cared about you was definitely a highlight of my Stevens education."
"Hannah was a real asset to her senior design team as they moved into the building phase of the project," comments Hazelwood. "She was on campus for swimming, available to run prototypes on the 3D printer, and I got to know her as we went through that process."
"The team's early efforts were not successful, but character is revealed by how one handles failure. She helped her team persist and eventually achieve a prize-winning solution. Hannah demonstrated how she truly enjoys learning from her experiences."
"If you're a high school student, you should look at Stevens," Percely concludes, "especially if you're interested in research and engineering and want to be able to use your skills in the classroom. The design competitions, the design spine and the team projects are truly unique. You're not just saying you're designing something, you're actually writing research papers, getting your hands dirty, making things."
"Now I feel prepared to work with people who are more experienced than I am; I know that I am capable of taking on the new challenges my work will bring. I feel very happy that I chose this school."