Co-op program will provide students earn-learn work experience

SUNY Oswego is launching the SUNY system’s first multiple-major co-op program, which can place students into full-time paying jobs in their areas of interest for up to six months.

Students looking at co-op material.As part of a major initiative across the SUNY system to improve the flow of the education pipeline “from cradle to career,” as SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher has said, the co-op program positions Oswego as a significant contributor of field-trained graduates to employers throughout the region and beyond.

Participating Oswego students will take theory into the workplace, helping companies such as Welch Allyn, IBM and Novelis on substantial projects as employees, while earning up to $16,000 for a half-year of work. Working within a corporate culture can allow students to try a career before graduation, while developing a network of contacts.

“Cooperative education is taking on new importance nationally as more and more students seek experiential learning opportunities like internships, service learning, undergraduate research and study abroad to complement their academic coursework,” SUNY Oswego Interim Provost Lorrie Clemo said.

“Students here have already expressed great interest and enthusiasm about co-op and the opportunity it provides for them to practice their field of study, network with professionals, and connect learning to the classroom during a semester of paid employment,” Clemo added.

Student preparation

By using summers to earn general-education and other credits, students will have the opportunity to graduate in four years. Participating students can maintain full-time status, which helps with financial aid and health insurance, while gaining work experience.

“I expect that our faculty will see enhanced academic performance from students returning from co-ops with increased understanding of their fields. An additional benefit is that it will help students earn funds to finance their education,” Clemo said.

The program has grown from an assignment Clemo suggested to SUNY Oswego MBA candidate Sheila Cooley, who continues to help coordinate the program’s startup among eight academic departments so far: accounting, finance and law; chemistry; communication studies; computer science; marketing and management; mathematics; software engineering; and theatre.

“I am very passionate about this new initiative,” said Cooley, a financial aid adviser who will graduate with an MBA in December. “This initiative allows us to prepare our students better for entry into the work force and helps them have a greater opportunity for job placement after graduation, especially during these difficult times.”

Students will need to earn their positions, Cooley said, but going through the interview process itself will provide valuable experience. Co-op students also may have the opportunity to join the company full time after graduation by displaying characteristics such as hard work, problem solving and ability to work in a team.

Business immersion

Marshall Magee, senior director of research and development at medical equipment manufacturer Welch Allyn in Skaneateles Falls, applauded SUNY Oswego’s approach and said his company has benefited for years from student employees, including SUNY Oswego graduate students in Festa Fellowships.

“We hire a lot of students,” Magee said. “I can stand up at my desk and count probably 20 people around me who were co-ops at one time or another.”

David Stone, working on a master’s in graphic design, was employed as a Festa Fellow at Welch Allyn this summer, designing line illustrations as a member of a team developing medical instruments. “I had such a good experience,” Stone said. “I want to help out any way I can promoting the co-op program to students and talking with them about the ins and outs of a co-op position.”

Stone said it was eye opening for him to watch products go through development cycles in a work environment, as opposed to theoretically in a classroom. “I gained an excellent perspective on how the business world works,” he said.

SUNY’s University at Buffalo has a co-op program in engineering, and Dean Millar, assistant dean and director of the Engineering Career Institute student work experience program, will visit SUNY Oswego Oct. 6 and 7 to discuss the program with Oswego’s Engineering Board and other groups of students and faculty.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Student interest—The new SUNY Oswego cooperative education program draws the attention of junior accounting major Matthew Gibbs, second from left, and Maxmillian Chen, a sophomore business administration major. Cleane Medeiros, left, of the biological sciences faculty, and Sheila Cooley, an MBA student and financial aid adviser, explain the pilot program they help coordinate with eight academic departments.

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(Posted: Sep 28, 2011)

Tags: solutions, prospective students, intellectual rigor, engagement, education pipeline, co-op