Co-ops help students pave career paths
A cooperative education experience helped Kaleb Cantrell decide that biomedical engineering was the right fit for his future, while chemical engineering major Maria Belicak’s co-op exposed her to a new career path.
Consisting of two or more semesters of full-time work, co-ops provide valuable experience that can help students land their first professional position after graduation.
Prior to his yearlong co-op with medical device manufacturer DePuy Synthes—focused on knee replacement research—Cantrell was unsure whether to pursue a career in biomedical or environmental engineering.
“It was like a shove in the right direction for me to do this,” he explained. “It really affirmed that I want to work in the biomedical field.”
Now a fifth-year biomedical engineering major who is also pursuing a minor in humanitarian engineering, Cantrell plans to work in the orthopedics field full-time after graduation.
“I would like to come up with a new material that makes replacement surgeries for knees, shoulders, hips more affordable,” he said.
Co-ops can also expose students to previously unconsidered career paths.
Belicak credits her willingness to take on an environmental role with the Marathon Pipe Line Environmental Department with helping her get her foot in the door. She will return to the company this fall to work as a tech services co-op at the Detroit refinery.
“I’m definitely interested in the environmental role, but with the new refining role, I’ll be able to compare and contrast and see what I'd like to do more,” she said.
The co-op also changed the way Belicak approached the rest of her time on campus.
“This completely changed the way I thought about school. I still care about grades and my GPA, but I know I'm there to learn and also develop my interpersonal skills,” she said. “It's also very important to have relationships with people while you're in school and network. Networking was one of the biggest takeaways I got from the Marathon experience.”
What about delaying graduation?
Some students wonder if choosing a co-op or internship is worth delaying their graduation date. Engineering Career Services’ Katy Arenschield believes it is.
“Co-ops and internships are extremely important for engineering students,” the co-op and internship program manager said. “In fact, relevant work experience is probably the second most important qualification—after major—that employers look for when seeking qualified candidates. Putting that knowledge you learn in the classroom to use in a real-world engineering setting is incomparable.”
Cantrell agrees that the benefits more than make up for the graduation delay and recommends co-ops to fellow engineering students.
“The experience that I learned was invaluable and you’re graduating with that year or two of workforce experience. I think that's definitely worth it.”
For Cantrell, who moved four hours away to Warsaw, Indiana, for his co-op, it was also a helpful preview of what life will be like after graduation.
“It's more than just work experience, it was major life experience,” he said. “It makes you accountable and builds up those characteristics that you need to be successful in life that you don't necessarily get 100% from school.”
by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org