Co-Op Education: Co-oping was ‘the best experience of my college career’

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Published: October 30,2009

Classroom training in college is great for learning important theories and principals. But when it comes to applying that education in the real world, nothing beats actually getting to work in the field.  That is why cooperative education programs, where students learn on the job, are a critical benefit.

“What I was able do as a co-op with Eaton Aerospace in Jackson was amazing,” said Jeremy Phelps, 22, who is a senior majoring in industrial technology at Mississippi State University (MSU). “The ability to network and earn money was beneficial, but I developed an experience base that will set me apart from other graduates when I begin looking for my first opportunity after graduation.

“Co-oping for me for was by far the best experience of my college career.  I developed human relations skills, the ability to communicate in the workplace and the ability to work for different people. I learned multitasking and multi-managing. I got to work in the role as a manufacturing engineer learning how to develop and design tool drawings and fixtures.”

Phelps started co-oping at Eaton Aerospace when he was a sophomore at MSU in 2007. He was initially concerned he didn’t have as much upper-level course work as he would have liked. But he found that Eaton Aerospace was fine with that.

“When I got there, they said they were glad I didn’t have a lot of pre-conceived notions because they have their own set of rules and guidelines,” Phelps said. “They don’t expect you to know everything. They were not expecting me to be a full-time engineer.  I was in a real job and a real environment. They found me tasks relevant to where I was going with my career. I was exposed to industrial engineering projects and was allowed to become involved in a wide range of projects.”  

Phelps said academic theory and principals are important, but to actually apply those principles and see the results of your work is incredible.  A classroom can’t give you that. 

“You earn a grade in a classroom,” he said. “You earn a reputation in the workforce.”

Having the co-op experience will be a powerful plus on his resume. It shows he has more than theoretical knowledge of the job to be done. The human resources director at Eaton Aerospace told him that a four-year or master’s degree from college with a high GPA is good, but work experience allows you to bring more to the table than just grades. 

“It shows you have the ability to work with other people in diverse cultures, understand business, and interact easier than someone who attended class four years and showed up to get a grade,” Phelps said. “It is very powerful to have co-op work experience related to your major.”

Angie Chrestman, who heads the MSU Cooperative Education Program, sees many success stories like that related by Phelps.  

“Cooperative education is a unique academic program that allows students to gain practical real world work experience related to their field of study,” Chrestman said. “It is designed to be an extension of the student’s education and enrich their academic experience.” 

Chrestman lists the following benefits to students:

• Experience related to your field of study

• Financial support 

• Opportunity to confirm career choice

• See classroom theory in practice

• Professional and personal growth

• Increased chance of full-time job offer by graduation

• Higher starting salary, on average, as a full-time employee

“The Cooperative Education office provides a very detailed and structured approach to assisting students with obtaining a co-op position,” Chrestman said. “Workshops and individual student appointments are utilized to prepare students to write a resume, participate in a formal interview, select the right position and make the transition from school to work. As a co-op student, they have a mentor or supervisor while at work to provide them direction.  Students also have a liaison through the co-op office to stay in contact with the university while at work.  The goal is for the student to continue their education at work in a supportive environment.”

By BECKY GILLETTE I CONTRIBUTOR

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