All posts by Kirsti Arko

Assistant Director for Experiential Learning and Career Development

Preparing Students for their Co-op Experience

When a student leaves campus to begin a co-op or internship, they are faced with a challenge regarding their identity. After operating as a student for so long, they have to quickly transition to that of a professional, and sometimes for the first time. When done right, students feel an amazing sense of accomplishment – “I was treated like the other professionals.” With the right attitude and keen sense for polishing their professional skills, students can begin building a successful professional career and respected reputation during their co-op experience. And isn’t that the point?

However, we cannot assume that all students are prepared to make this transition; thus, to assist students in this process, Career Services requires all co-op students attend a pre-departure meeting. The topics in this meeting include networking, co-op course requirements, but most important are the keys to a successful co-op. Surprisingly to students, those who are successful are not always the most brilliant technically, but rather they shine because of their professionalism, attitude, and excellent communication skills. Check out this semester’s meeting.

Spring 2016 Co-op Meeting

https://huskycast.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=1151eb4d-1885-4305-9bae-c1d661d455dc


One Hundred Years Strong

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
karko@mtu.edu

 


College to Career: adapting career services for students on the spectrum

This Fall, Career Services, in collaboration with Student Disability Services, launched a new pilot program, College to Career, which provides specialized career development programming to students with unique needs. Those needs are students on the spectrum who may need specialized instruction in their career development.

Now half-way into the semester, this program is already making great strides, with plans to continue into the spring, and then provide an even more extensive program starting Fall 2016. The agenda for this past fall’s career fair season has been similar to what all students have been focusing on (personal introductions, resumes, career fair prep, and interviews), but each with a twist. After just four weeks together, the College to Career group attended the career fair, handed out their resumes and introduced themselves to the company representatives. For students who may have difficulty with social situations, the Michigan Tech Career Fair can be one of the most challenging situations ever encountered, but they did it. And we could not be prouder.

When we plan for this group, there are no assumptions about what a student should know or should do, rather each topic is approached and presented with a keen sense of the individual needs that are represented in the group. To be on the spectrum may mean there is a need for a different focus, but the needs represented even in a small group can be vastly different. Some students need the opportunity to talk through all of their thinking while others remain silent. There are students who require additional coaching in their mannerisms and gestures while for others it is something they just instinctively know to do. All of this has caused us to rethink our plans, every week. You cannot generalize the teaching methods for this type of group., because what is natural for one may be very unnatural for another.

As we navigate with our group and work to strengthen this new program, we pride ourselves on our awareness, and it is only through this awareness and the goal to learn more about our students that we can offer career preparation that accounts for all students’ needs. Career prep is not a one size fits all, and we are thrilled to be able to offer other sizes.

Want to learn more?
Contacts:  JR Repp jrrepp@mtu.edu or Kirsti Arko karko@mtu.edu


Embracing the Unknown

“Strange about learning; the farther I go the more I see that I never knew even existed.” -Daniel Keyes

As I read the current installment of reflection and discussion responses from students who are currently on co-op for the summer, Keyes’ quote is more true than ever, but I am not surprised. Our group of four career advisors here on campus share a lot of sayings, but one of our favorites sounds oddly familiar to Keyes, though far less poetic.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

We are constantly reminding our students of the unknown, because they are struggling to make career-related decisions without really knowing what’s out there. Those on co-ops are learning more about what is out there and some of those things they “never knew even existed.” When these students return to campus, they will come knowing a little more, worrying a little less, and working even harder, because they experienced, they learned, and their path became a little less winding.

If you are on the other side, as a supervisor or co-worker to a co-op student, I will leave you with some of their words. Nearly all of them credited those around them as to why their experiences were so englightening and valuable. While the work was part of their experience, a common theme was their appreciation for how they were treated while on site. Here’s what they said worked:

  • Surround them with people with whom they can trust, especially when asking questions
  • Provide honest feedback, because they want to learn and they want to learn to do it right
  • Make them feel valued – their work, their ideas, and their contributions
  • Take the time to get to know them and their lives outside of the workplace

The students on co-op are very aware of how much they don’t know and use every opportunity to learn something new each and every day, but those of us who have been doing our work for a while may be less observant. As you finish your day, think back and try to identify something new – what did you see that you never knew even existed?  We may be surprised.