Developing a Career in Renewable Energy on Co-op and in the Lab


After two co-ops, working in an on-campus lab, and their time with AerospaceNU, CJ Huey, E’24, mechanical engineering and physics, feels that they have made the most of their Northeastern experience. The secret to their success was not being afraid to take charge of important work.

CJ Huey, E’24, mechanical engineering, is deeply motivated by important work. Co-op was the main reason why they, like most students, felt that Northeastern was the right choice for them. Even compared to their peers, they say they’ve had an exceptionally helpful co-op experience.

Huey’s first co-op was at Electric Hydrogen, a renewable energy equipment manufacturer, as a stack engineer. Right from the start, they were able to dive into a hands-on environment, getting to work on lab testing and analysis. After this process, the data they collected would then be submitted for review. It was the responsibility that came from this environment, however, that they found most fulfilling.

“I was in charge of it from the start to finish of the whole process, and I had to present my results,” Huey says. “The importance of the work gave me more passion.”

In particular, the depth of the experimentation and testing reached a level unmatched by what could be achieved in a typical classroom environment. Huey’s role was to run pressure tests for various gaskets on a hydrostatic machine. These tests ensured that hydrogen cells could be pressurized at a high enough PSI to be used for clean energy. This was a process of trial and error as variables such as material and size of the gaskets were changed.

Huey also designed a gantry and laser profiler, which made it significantly easier and less time-consuming to get measurements needed to ensure that the cells were up to Electric Hydrogen’s standards.

They led these projects through to the end on their own, which Huey says was a unique experience to have.

“It was definitely a lot of pressure, but it also [gave me] creativity and freedom to do it how I thought would be best,” Huey says.

Huey and the Electric Hydrogen team with one of their prototypes.

Huey’s second co-op at Lockheed Martin was the polar opposite of the work at Electric Hydrogen. Their work was mostly design oriented as opposed to the experimentation they had had at Electric Hydrogen. Taking a different path for their second co-op helped them figure out what kind of work they were interested in.

“I just prefer something where I am actively involved in the products I’m producing, but still Lockheed allowed me to freely solidify my skills in documentation,” Huey says.

Fully understanding this documentation required a lot of initiative on Huey’s part. The material they were working on at Lockheed Martin spanned decades, and that sometimes meant that coding decisions that were previously made didn’t align with current practices.

“I had to do a lot of reading through their manuals and figuring out why these decisions were made because I would be testing this software, and I’d see something that I didn’t think made sense,” Huey says. “[Then] I had to go reach out to the person who wrote that code 15 years ago.”

Huey has found that what they learned on co-op has consistently applied to their studies, especially in terms of technical skills. Their work at Electric Hydrogen strengthened their knowledge of structural analysis, particularly for determining what forces certain metals can withstand.

“Classes normally teach you that as well, but not in the depth that I did it, and certainly getting to actually use it on something makes me more familiar with it,” Huey says.

As for Lockheed Martin, Huey’s range of skills was greatly expanded due to the programming skills they picked up from their time there.

“I used Visual Studio at my job, and that was the first time that I had ever used it, so I got used to it there,” Huey says. “I’ve had multiple classes since that use Visual Studio, and I haven’t had a class teach me that before, so coming in with that prior knowledge was really helpful.”

Huey’s co-ops also gave them a chance to make connections that they would have otherwise missed out on, especially with students from other universities. Making these connections gave them a chance to see how other colleges handled internships, but in the end, their appreciation for Northeastern’s co-op program remained.

“At Northeastern, there are already opportunities that these companies want Northeastern students for, and so you don’t have to fight as much to get your resume noticed,” Huey says. “I wouldn’t have even known about some of these job opportunities had it not been for Northeastern.”

Co-op also completely reshaped Huey’s perspective on the workforce. They found that co-op gave them more control over their career than they initially realized.

“It showed me that I have more choice in my future than I thought I did,” Huey says. “Especially since I already have a year of work experience, it’s definitely going to be easier to get those opportunities.”

In terms of on-campus leadership, Huey has been heavily involved with AerospaceNU, serving as president in past semesters. Huey has had a deep appreciation for the environment fostered by AerospaceNU because it gave them a chance to work on the kinds of projects that they could only experience on co-op. There’s also a level of creative freedom beyond what Huey was able to find elsewhere.

“We’re not a competition-based club, and so all the projects we work on are projects that people decide they want to work on,” Huey says. “You can propose any project and work on anything you want.”

Huey with AerospaceNU during a launch.

Aside from AerospaceNU, Huey also conducts research in the Thermodynamics and Combustion Lab at Northeastern under MIE Professor Hameed Metghalchi. The bulk of the work has been for a paper about synthetic fuels such as produced hydrogen as opposed to natural gas. This has proved to be a much cleaner energy source. Huey’s involvement with the lab was directly sparked by their co-op experience at Electric Hydrogen.

“I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, but it wasn’t something I was super focused on until I worked there… and so I reached out to Professor Metghalchi because I knew he did research on similar topics,” Huey says.

This experience has been a deeply positive one, and Huey says they have felt fully supported by Metghalchi all throughout. Their experience in the lab has also led them down a path towards grad school. They’re hoping that grad school will give them the opportunity to merge their interest from co-op, the lab and AerospaceNU.

“I’m really interested in renewable energy now, and I’m also interested in aerospace, and so I found a bunch of programs where they’re looking at making aviation and rocketry more renewable,” Huey says. “I’m hoping to pursue that type of research in grad school.”

After grad school, Huey wants to continue to focus on renewable energy. Ever since their co-op at Electric Hydrogen, their interest in reducing carbon emissions has only continued to sharpen.

“I’d like to be part of it, you know, contribute to something that I believe in.” Huey says.

Related Faculty: Hameed Metghalchi

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering