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Caterpillar partners with Ohio State on remote co-op program

SIMCenter-led collaboration lets students work remotely while still taking classes

When Dylan Barrison was finishing up his internship with Caterpillar this past summer, he began to wonder if there was any way he could stay on with the team once classes resumed.

Barrison, a third-year computer science and engineering major at The Ohio State University, needed a part-time job for the school year and wanted one that would continue the work he had enjoyed for months.

"I really wanted to just stay on so I could have that challenge and keep learning during the school year," he said. 

Buckeye engineers (from left) Dylan Barrison, Meredith Ash, Jose Lozada, Mitzi Fernandez and Samantha Harel are the first Ohio State students to participate in Caterpillar's Parallel Co-op Program. After asking his mentor if anything was available, he was told that Caterpillar was developing a Parallel Co-op Program at Ohio State. It would allow students to work remotely and continue to collaborate with their respective mentors or teams at Caterpillar’s R&D headquarters near Peoria, Illinois.

Less than a week later after the program was announced, Barrison, one of the first applicants, was chosen for one of the available positions. Mitzi Fernandez, a fourth-year electrical and computer engineering major, was also selected.

Ohio State is the third university that Caterpillar has partnered with for this program, with Purdue and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign being the other two. Students in the program work 10 hours a week during the school year and full time during the summer.

Caterpillar's Parallel Co-op Program at Ohio State is run through the Simulation Innovation and Modeling Center (SIMCenter). The center’s objective is to train students through applied simulation with the help of faculty mentors who work with industry partners. The center provides desk space and a place for students to store their equipment. Caterpillar oversees student guidance, communication and pay.

SIMCenter Director Shawn Midlam-Mohler said the opportunity for students to work for an industry partner like Caterpillar while still taking classes is invaluable.

“This partnership with Caterpillar is a great opportunity for Ohio State students interested in simulation. They gain relevant technical experience working with a great company, while also having the flexibility of an on-campus job,” Midlam-Mohler said. “We look forward to growing this and other collaborations with Caterpillar.”

Adjusting to remote work

After being within arm's reach of his colleagues all summer, Barrison said he was nervous at first about working remotely. However, communicating with his team in Peoria has been easier than expected.

"I think the way the program is set up, it's really favorable toward the students and being able to communicate with their team," Barrison said. "I work just about the same hours as my mentor back in Peoria, so it's really easy for me to hop on Skype and communicate with him."

Barrison is currently working with Caterpillar’s machine and machine systems integration team. Many of his tasks involve testing software and writing code for different features of large mining trucks. He also tests the systems to make sure all the components are operating as expected, and then writes configuration and test reports afterward.

With any job there is bound to be a learning curve, and a technical environment like Caterpillar requires a longer acclimation period than others, Barrison said.

“There's so much about the machines that you have to learn, so much about the work environment, so many terms they use that are specific to Caterpillar but not the larger industry," he said. "Being able to continue on during the school year really helps because you're still learning as you go and striving to do better and more work."

Barrison plans to continue his work in Peoria this summer. He said that working during the school year has helped him gain experience as well as maintain relationships and network within Caterpillar, something his co-worker Fernandez agrees is incredibly valuable.

Fernandez said that she applied for the Parallel Co-op Program because of the positive experience she had with her team at Caterpillar in Peoria last summer.

She is currently working on two projects—one involves analyzing the quality of features for large engines. The other has her working with Caterpillar’s common engine application layer group to learn how features are built, written, read and stored.

Fernandez accepted a full-time position with Caterpillar and will start work after graduation in May, so bridging the gap between the two summers just made sense for her.

The program has already more than doubled in size at Ohio State, with three additional students joining the team in January.

“We’re excited about this expansion of our relationship and looking forward to working in greater depth with Ohio State students,” Caterpillar Engineering Supervisor Mark Niemeyer said. “The co-op program offers students real-world experience on real Caterpillar projects and lets us to tap into the creativity of some of the best and brightest future engineers.”

Students interested in Caterpillar’s Parallel Co-Op Program can search and apply for positions at caterpillar.com/careers.

by Zach Konno, College of Engineering student communications assistant

Tags: Students