It was the sound of a whistle blowing from a surrounding factory that became the lightbulb moment leading to cooperative education as we know it today. Cooperative Education has a rich 100-plus year history, with its U.S. roots beginning at the University of Cincinnati thanks to the diligent work of Herman Schneider, an educator dedicated to engineering education. The idea came after his extensive conversations with schools along the east coast as he searched to identify what engineers were missing in their education.
Cooperative education is one model, and I would argue the most valuable, of work-integrated learning. Schneider knew that an engineering curriculum was not complete without students practicing their skills in an authentic setting. Co-ops provide just that. As students on our campus prepare for the upcoming spring career fair, they may not know Herman Schneider, nor the actual age of cooperative education, but they are well aware that having co-op experience as evidence of their professional development will be highly valued by the recruiters.
The interesting part comes when we begin to ask why. While it is easy to argue that students are better prepared for the workplace as a result of a co-op, research has not focused on the learning that causes the student to return as a different version of themselves. Exactly what do students learn while on a co-op? And how do they learn? What factors are important in their learning? A co-op is a collaboration between the student, the employer, and the university, so all should be committed to ensuring a quality experience – as Herman Schneider envisioned. Michigan Tech is committed to do our part, and we look forward to our co-op collaborations. If you have not previously participated in the co-op program, contact me to find out how Michigan Tech might may be a great match with your company – and the whistle blowing moments will live on.
Kirsti Arko – Assistant Director for Experiential Learning and Career Development