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Co-ops give engineering students ‘real-world application’

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CW/ Joe Will Field

CW/ Joe Will Field

CW/ Joe Will Field

Rylie Curry, Staff Reporter

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For students like Alexandra Andreen, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, the Cooperative Education Program, or co-op, provided her with distinct professional experience not offered by any other program.

“I have seen myself develop both professionally and personally with each term,” Andreen said. “Now I feel significantly more prepared to be an engineer than I did when I started my co-op.”

Andreen worked as a chemical engineer for Ascend Performance Materials for three terms in Alabama, Texas and Florida. Her main projects were developing a process summary display, researching ways to improve a waste fuel system, developing tools for operators and developing hydraulic models.

A co-op is a formalized experiential learning program that allows engineering students to alternate between school and a full-time job for three semesters. Students will work a paid engineering job for a spring, summer and fall semester while maintaining their full-time student status to retain scholarships.

Neil Adams, assistant director of the Cooperative Education Program, said co-ops allow students to find a job before they even graduate.

“When you think about the competitive nature of the post-graduate job search, being able to have some professional experience that you can discuss as a part of that job search as a way to set yourself apart is really important,” Adams said. “It provides outstanding network opportunities as well, so you get to network within companies, you get to network with peers, both with students from The University of Alabama and students who may be co-oping from other universities as well.”

In addition to allowing students to gain professional experience, co-ops provide companies a recruitment tool. Co-ops give a company the chance to have a prolonged job interview with a potential candidate for a long-term hire. By the time students approach graduation, they have worked with a supervisor and have job evaluations on file. As a result, the company is more familiar with the candidate when they go to apply for a full-time job.

Companies are also able to work with multiple students in a single position because they work on a rotating sequence, which allows students to alternate semesters throughout the year in order to maintain their status as a student. While one student takes classes for a semester, another works at the company, then they switch for the following semester.

Adams said he commonly hears students say they changed the way they approach their classwork after they return from their co-op work term.

“We’re an academic program and we make sure that we’re touching base with students when they return from their work programs,” Adams said. “The most common thing I hear is co-op has changed the way that students are approaching their class work. For example, if you have a student in chemical engineering who is studying about certain reactor dynamics, being able to understand that at the ground level as opposed to a theoretical level makes a big difference.”

Joseph Seale, a junior majoring in civil engineering, said the co-op program gave him experience that textbooks and lectures could not.

“I have learned so much about the real world application of my degree and whether or not this is the path I want to take,” Seale said. “This opportunity has provided immeasurable benefits and is one of the greatest choices I have made while at UA.”

Seale is currently co-oping with Brasfield and Gorrie, one of the nation’s largest construction firms, where he works under the project manager. Seale makes sure the whole project runs smoothly and that everything is correct, on time and recorded properly.

In order to get involved with the co-op program, students should first submit an application, available on the co-op website. Once completed, students should print and submit their applications to the co-op office at 2004 H.M. Comer Hall.

After submitting an application, students are able to participate in recruitment events and receive information about job opportunities throughout the year.

Once they have submitted an application, students can also participate in interview days, which take place in both the fall and spring semesters and are the biggest placement events of the year, Adams said.

The co-op program is now under the Division of Student Life in the Career Center as a campus-wide program and it continues to grow.

“We’re really proud of the co-op program,” Adams said. “We very much recommend getting experience, whether it’s a co-op or internship. I think it’s really important. Co-op is a great opportunity, and it’s an opportunity that gives you experience that you can’t really get anywhere else.”

 

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Co-ops give engineering students ‘real-world application’