The Career Development Center at NC State provides resources, programs and services that facilitate career development and experiential learning opportunities to ensure career-readiness for currently registered students and recent graduates. This year the Career Development Center celebrated a milestone with over 1,000 students participating in co-ops during the school year.
The Cooperative Education program allows students to gain real work experience through job placement with employers seeking future employees. Longer than a summer or semester internship, the co-op program allows students to rotate between semesters spent working full time in their field and semesters continuing to pursue their degree at NC State.
The benefits of a co-op include: exploring a career field and confirming the right major of choice, working with state-of-the-art equipment in the industry, experiencing corporate culture, working with professionals and also receiving pay.
When senior Nancy Lee McLean was accepted into civil engineering during her freshman year, she decided a co-op experience would be the best way to gain an in-depth understanding about her field.
“Through my co-op I was able to gain exposure to almost every applicable aspect of the company and work with employees in different areas of the business,” said McLean.
Susan Matney is the Associate Director of the Cooperative Education program. In this role she oversees the co-ops of students in the College of Engineering and Management. She has worked for NC State for 29 years and believes the co-op experience is incredibly valuable.
“Employers are always pleased to see a student with a co-op experience when it comes time for the interview. Students who have participated in a co-op have a track record of being able to communicate, utilize problem solving skills and understand the value of teamwork. Also, students are more aware of what they want from a company and are able to discern more about the company’s culture during an interview,” said Matney.
While many engineering students co-op, Matney noted that the program is university-wide, with co-op participation from all of the colleges.
“The program has certainly grown and we have diverse student involvement in the program,” said Matney.
Students self-select to co-op. This means students willingly choose to become full time employees for a semester at a time. While enrolled in a co-op work term, students are registered as full-time students and are entitled to the same benefits as students taking a full academic load of classes.
Matney explains that students who participate in co-ops frequently believe it to be the best decision they could have made in terms of their career.
McLean echoed the same sentiment. “As a student, there was a very tangible reason for all of my hard work. Through the rotations, I could see how what I was learning in my classes helped me to solve problems more effectively and efficiently. Also I was able to come up with solutions I would have probably missed before,” she said.
McLean also discussed her ability to see the bigger picture and increase in her work ethic after her co-op experience. As part of the rotation process students who choose to partake in co-ops typically take an extra year to finish school.
While the additional year can be a deterrent for some students, McLean felt the decision to co-op was the best way to receive real-world experience while also learning about her field.
“The rotations help remind students that there is a reason they are working so hard in their classes. They will apply the lessons learned in the office to the classroom and vice versa. In addition, you gain a year of work experience before you ever graduate,” said McLean.
If students are interested in a co-op experience, Matney said to start early and plan ahead by attending a co-op orientation session. More information about the co-op program can be found on the co-op program website.
Participating in a co-op program allows students to truly understand the Think and Do mentality of NC State. “It is a highly valuable experience. When I ask students and alumni about the co-op experience most say “I didn’t co-op and I wish that I had or I did and it was the best decision I could have made,’” said Matney.