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Cooper Union Senior Profiles: Ginger Lau

Who are you? Could you tell me about yourself?

My name is Ginger Lau and I am a 4th year Mechanical Engineering Student at The Cooper Union. I was born and raised in the bustling city of New York so I've been molded to be dynamic, adaptable, and resourceful. I love tinkering and absorbing from the environments around me. Everyday I encounter small things that make me think to myself, “I could make that better”.

When are you graduating?

I will be graduating May 2023

What is your major? And why did you choose your major?

I am a mechanical engineering student. Actually, I started out as a general engineering student because I knew I was interested in engineering and had experience in medical research. The general engineering route gave me the freedom to design my own degree. However, as the classes went on, I realized that the degree I catered for myself aligned with the mechanical engineering degree so I eventually applied to transfer. This decision has given me the opportunity to take the fundamental mechanical engineering classes and find my passion in design and prototyping.

Who is someone you look up to in your field? Either today or historically?

I would consider my specialty to be making. This was a skill I was only able to cultivate at Cooper because of the wonderful lab staff. I’ve had the opportunity to work at the Makerspace and AACE lab where I met Isa, Harrison, and Judy. I admire how each of them approaches manufacturing in their own ways. For instance, Isa loves taking trash and making it treasure. They have always encouraged me to be creative and push my fast prototyping skills. Harrison runs the AACE lab and provides numerous resources for students to learn how to use software, machines, and get materials. His caring nature and optimism always encourages me to be more experimental and use traditional machines to create beautifully unconventional art. Lastly, Judy has shown me what it means to balance organization and design. She is incredibly meticulous with documentation and takes the time to teach students the principles of the machines. Her thoroughness and attention to detail inspires me to be a better educator and make my work accessible to others.

Why did you choose Cooper Union?

I grew up in New York City’s Chinatown where tiger parents are hungry to earn badges like “my child is the top of the class” and “my son is a doctor”. Cooper Union is a highly regarded school in the Chinese American community. My parents know it as a rigorous school that produces excellent engineers. In fact, my father loves to retell the story of how his first boss was a Cooper Alum and how intelligent and inspiring he was.

Ultimately, I choose Cooper because it is a small and rigorous school. The small class sizes ensure that I have a personal connection with each of my professors and don’t fall off course. The work is intense, but always worth it in the end. I feel that I end every class with a new skillset and work I am proud to share with others.

What is one thing that you learned at Cooper that you didn’t expect?

I had my fair share of experiences at small and large schools. Cooper is a very small school. Attending a small school means seeing the same faces everyday for every class. This is great in an ideal world, however everyone has likes and dislikes. I did not expect to learn people management skills at Cooper.

I define people management as project management but on an emotional level. Learning how to work well with others means knowing how to clearly define goals, establish what is doable, and understand my skillsets and limitations. My experience in team lead positions has taught me to be understanding, forgiving, and self aware. I’ve led large teams (the Cooper Unions First NREL Solar Decathlon team of 15+ students) and small teams (my mechatronics team of 4 students). What I’ve learned is that knowing myself well allows me to find team members with complimentary skills so that we can create effective workflows.

What inspires you?

Engineering is a constantly evolving field that adapts to the needs of the people. There are so many branches and niches in the field that I’ve never felt that one engineer in particular has solved all the problems. However, this has also made me realize that only one problem really matters: climate change. I feel inspired by the activists around me. I feel inspired by our students – the artists who spread the word, the architects who design for our future, and the engineers who propose solutions.

What are you reading, listening to, or watching?

I know that engineering students get a bad rep for HSS course. We get the occasional bragger who is proud that ChatGPT wrote their essay and that they sparknotes-ed the chapters right before class. But actually, I love reading. I’ve read every single text that has been assigned to me through the years.

My favorite genres to read are autobiographies (my favorite is Born A Slave by Trevor Noah), womens fiction, and contemporary fiction. I love when books leave me in tears or a desire to change the world.

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

I will be attending graduate studies at UC Berkeley next year studying ‘advanced simulation and manufacturing processes’. Long name, I know, but essentially I'll be polishing my understanding of mechanics so I can better predict how materials will behave in certain environments using computer simulations and calculations.

I hope that in 5 years I’ll be working somewhere unconventional and applying my engineering to a niche field that I’m passionate in. I’m not particularly drawn to the cubicle style six figure jobs many people go for. I want to be doing something that I’m weirdly passionate about like designing for dogs or space or fashion… maybe even graphic design?

What are you passionate about? And what do you do in your free time to refresh yourself?

As strange as it sounds, I love learning. Thats why I love working at the labs in school – I get to help students and encounter new problems everyday. Recently, I’ve been interested in graphic design. In my free time I like to sit in the computer center and follow graphic design youtube videos. I like leaving my poster designs around school. At first they were for my PLA plastic recycling project for the AACE Lab grant, but slowly I’ve just been leaving easter egg posters. They have no name, just a design I felt proud of.

Is there a question we should have asked you? And if so, what is it and what is the answer to it

I think it would be nice to ask people about their footprint at Cooper – what they hope to be remembered for and what they are leaving for future generations of engineers/artists/architects.

My personal contribution to the future of Cooper is a project that is being graciously funded by the AACE Lab Project Grant. The ReCoop project is a project that aims to build a self-sufficient school-wide recycling system.

I have an independent study with Douglas Thornhill to research the mechanical properties of recycled PLA. This class has helped me look at the technical aspects of this reyclicng project and develop safe methods of reusing plastics. Right now, the recycling system consists of:

  1. T-shirt press sheet maker – using a t-shirt press to melt shredded parts into clean ⅛” sheets of PLA.

  2. Recycled PLA injection molding – using recycled PLA to injection mold into in-house molds made from resin printers in the AACE lab.

  3. PETG Soda Bottle Extruder – shredding soda bottles and extruding them as spools of filament students can print with.

We will soon be deploying a website that students can refer to if they need free materials. The only cost is that they have to bring their own scraps to melt. I hope this project inspires future students to turn trash into treasures and be aware of the impact our designs make on the world.

Recent works below:

Recoop Poster

VTOL group picture with prototypes. Ginger, second person from the right

Follow these links to stay up to date with Ginger's current projects and work.

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