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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Innovation 2015

Co-op program builds career connections

The Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture has started a program to provide professional experience and build future employability for students through internships and co-ops. The program, which was done informally in the past, will help students with professional preparation, including developing successful job search strategies, creating a social media presence, capitalizing on networking opportunities, crafting an effective résumé, and honing interview skills.

Sandi Brabb, Voiland College co-op coordinator, meets with students.
Sandi Brabb, Voiland College co-op coordinator, meets with students.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 97 percent of employers planned to hire interns or co-op students in 2014, and that 82 percent of the co-op students went on to work full-time for their employer.

We recently spoke with Voiland College co-op coordinator Sandra Brabb.

What is your role at Voiland College?

I work with students, industry, and the university to put a cooperative education program together where students can work full-time during the academic year and maintain full-time status. We want our students to be job ready on day one, and so they need industry experiences prior to graduating.

The other half of what I do is helping students learn how to successfully find jobs and prepare for that search. I am teaching professional skills that will benefit students such as networking, résumé writing, and interviewing skills.

What is the new co-op program all about?

Experiential learning is a key educational component that we want to provide in the Voiland College. One option that isn’t available yet at WSU is cooperative education, which allows students to work full-time during the academic year, get paid, and earn credit for the experience. They can work as many as three terms, or 12 months. The credits are intended to count toward their degree. Students will need to enroll in a specific course, and that course will allow them to be viewed as full-time students. Students need a mentor at their workplace, job duties that are related to their major, and to develop goals and objectives for the term. They also will need to write a reflection piece.

In the current system, students can earn academic credit with an internship, but enrolling for two or three credits only designates them as part-time students.

A co-op education program recognizes students during the academic year as full-time students. With the exception of a two-credit co-op course, students will not enroll in any other courses during the term of their co-op. This program will help both undergraduate and graduate students understand industry requirements and be well trained in their particular field.

What is most exciting about the program?

Allowing students to have these experiences in a real-world work environment is fantastic. It’s really exciting to help students get that practical experience, apply the theory they learned in the classroom to hands-on learning, and then get a job when they graduate. The companies are really excited to have our students, and I enjoy working with the students because they are excited about getting a job in their field before they graduate. It’s very fulfilling.

What are your challenges?

There are always challenges, like convincing a company, especially a smaller one, that a co-op is a win-win for both students and employers. We also want to make experiential learning a requirement rather than just recommended in our programs. We also need faculty on board because they will handle academic curriculum for the co-op course.

What is your goal?

To have 100 percent of our students in an internship or co-op before graduation, and 100 percent with a job offer by graduation. I am setting the bar very high!

Innovation 2015 magazine cover

Innovation Magazine

Read more in Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture’s latest edition of Innovation Magazine.