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Co-op Education Thrives in Today's New Economy
Cooperative education, long a mainstay of engineering programs, continues to thrive in today's climate of keen competition and corporate downsizing.
Kim Durbin, director of Auburn's program, points out that cooperative education graduates are highly sought by employers because their experience in industry gives them an edge over others both technically and professionally.
The program itself consists of four to six quarters of on-site work assignments alternating with academic quarters. Students may enter the program after the second quarter of their freshman year, or after one quarter as transfers.
"We have placed nearly 800 co-op students with about 230 companies this year," Durbin points out. "Approximately 80 percent of those are engineering students."
The success of the program "really comes from both sides of the fence," Durbin adds. "Students see the need to get work experience, while employers are eager to bring them on board for the contributions they can make."
Durbin also notes that when companies make permanent hires, they look for employees who can contribute immediately with their skills and work experience, and who have been introduced to corporate culture, not just engineering skills.
"Co-op students who enter the work force in general need less training when they enter their careers, which in a lot of cases puts them far ahead of others entering the job market," he explains.
While engineering co-op students earn between nine and thirteen thousand dollars a year during their two quarters of work assignments, Durbin stresses that the educational aspect of cooperative education outweighs the paycheck.
"Academic enhancement, not placement, is the reason the co-op program exists," Durbin says. "We stress this not only to our students, but to the employers as well."
While the program routinely places students in large corporations, Durbin says that the growth now is in small and medium sized companies.
"Supplier firms are a good example," he notes, "as well as consulting firms. The bulk of our co-op employers are in the manufacturing sector."
At the same time, he adds, co-ops are in demand in areas such as government agencies as well, including such well known ones as NASA.
In terms of geography, the co-op office places students as far away as Dallas, Miami, and Washington, D.C.
"It should be pointed out, however, that the majority of our co-op students live within a two-hour drive of Auburn, which allows them to take advantage of the social activities that fill campus weekends," Durbin says.
He sees continued growth for the future of the program.
"Cooperative education was started at Auburn in 1937, but never has the need been greater for the program," he explains. "Companies are becoming increasingly more high-tech, and that includes even those you don't think of as high-tech.
"As some of the latter turn increasingly to automation to trim payrolls and stay competitive, the need for engineers to run plant systems has become more, not less, important."
It's easy to find out more about the co-op program, particularly if you have access to a web-linked computer. The web address of Auburn's office is http://www.auburn.edu/~coogoph. The office can also be reached at Cooperative Education Program, 101 Lowder Building, Auburn University, AL 36849-5123; or by phone at 334/844-5410, and fax at 334/844-6414.
Kim Durbin, director of Auburn University's Cooperative Education Program since 1993, is currently completing the doctor of education degree in higher education administration.
His dissertation research, "An Analysis of the Relationships Between Job Satisfaction, Cooperative Education Work Experience, and Demographic Variables for Engineering Graduates," is being co-sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Eastman Chemical Co., Kingsport, Tenn.
Prior to joining the cooperative education program in 1985 as an assistant director, he served as an instructor in the College of Engineering for a four-year period. He also earned the bachelor's and master's degrees at Auburn.
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