When it comes to that all-important post-graduation job search, it’s great to have a college transcript that balances good grades with a variety of extracurricular activities. But few things will place your foot firmly in the door with a potential employer like a co-op or internship during your college career. Co-ops and internships provide real-world experience that you can’t get in a classroom, and three University of Cincinnati students are hoping their co-ops can jump start a career, as well.
Katie Hunt is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Cincinnati who is currently involved with a co-op experience at Cincinnati Sub-Zero, a medical device company that manufactures equipment for patient temperature management. She’s been there since the beginning of the year and will be there until the end of August.
Christine Weaver is an aerospace engineering student at the University of Cincinnati who is in the midst of a co-op experience at UTC Aerospace, one of the world’s largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products. UTC employs approximately 40,000 workers on six continents.
Isabel Milewski is completing an information technology co-op at the Cincinnati office of GE Aviation, the world's leading manufacturer and service provider for jet engines. GE has operations in 130 countries around the world.
All three students answered questions about their co-op experience and what that experience might mean for their futures:
1.) How did this co-op opportunity become available to you?
Katie – I heard about Cincinnati Sub-Zero because a fellow classmate worked there for his first two co-ops and he said he really liked it. I applied through the UC PlacePro process, which gives us a list of all companies available and we select those we want to send our resume to. The company contacted me through that; they came to campus and interviewed a bunch of students for the positions they had open, and I was selected for the quality engineering co-op.
Christine – About a year and a half ago, I met my boss at a UC event called “Evening with the Industry” that was put on by the Society of Women Engineers. I talked to her for a while and got her business card. The next day, I sent her an email to thank her for her time. This past April, I was still looking for a co-op job when I found those emails. I decided to email her and she remembered me right away, and said there was an opening with her team. I had two phone interviews and received the job.
Isabel – The co-op program is an integral part of the IT program at UC. Each student is required to complete five semesters of co-op. I attended the Career Fair at UC during the fall semester. Eric Ridder, ITLP recruiter and UC alumnus, introduced me to GE Aviation’s Information Technology Leadership Program and offered me an opportunity to interview.
2.) Is this your first co-op experience? If not, describe others you’ve had.
Katie – This is my second co-op. My first was with a prosthetic company in Dayton. I worked in their clinic so I actually got to see patients every day. This time two years ago I was there, and I worked there for one quarter.
Christine – No, I worked with 3D Engineering Solutions for about a year (some full-time and some part time while in school). While there, I focused mainly on data collection that could be compared to customer-supplied CAD models or reverse engineered. I also had the opportunity to work on the SRT Viper. I got to work at the plant directly with the customer to help repair frames to bring all the parts into their correct tolerances.
Isabel – Yes, this is my first co-op experience. ITLP is a rotation-based program during which co-op students will experience working in the diverse environment at GE. Each rotation is about three to four months in length and a student is assigned to a different division within GE Aviation. I started my first rotation in January and recently started the second rotation.
3.) How did your courses of study at UC prepare you for this co-op?
Katie – For the first co-op, it wasn’t necessarily biomedical engineering work. It was more patient care coordination, but it was interesting seeing the prosthetics, how they work, etc. The current co-op covers the medical device development process, which we have had classes on at UC, and more of what a biomedical engineer will actually do. Most of the stuff I’ve learned involves the design and development of an actual medical device; here, I see more of the behind-the-scenes of what has to be done for compliance. I didn’t realize it was such a big part of the medical device company. This company is worldwide. We send things all over the world.
Christine – My most recent classes helped me with my job at UTC because I learned all of the terminology dealing with the taking-off and landing of planes. I was able to jump right in and understand what everyone was talking about.
Isabel – The Information Technology program at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services has a unique curriculum. It covers not only the hardcore technical trainings in software development, but also the project management courses containing topics such as agile methodology. Prior to this, I had many years of experience in information technology field as a Web programmer. But it’s the formal trainings that I received from UC’s IT program that further prepared me for the co-op rotation.
4.) How will this experience prepare you for your future career?
Katie – When I came into this current co-op, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My first co-op was interesting, but most biomed students don’t go into prosthetics. I wasn’t sure what a biomedical engineer does when I got to this co-op. But this has helped me find a niche; I understand it and it is experience that will benefit me in any company I end up working for. I could possibly go back to work at Sub-Zero; several employees had co-ops there and they came back as full-time employees. I’m from the Dayton area and would love to find something between Cincinnati and Dayton after graduation.
Christine – I eventually want to work on unmanned aircraft systems, and I have had the opportunity to disassemble and reassemble the brakes for the Global Hawk. I will get to work with other planes also.
Isabel – The feedback from the team members allows me to identify my strengths as well as areas on which to work in order to become a future leader in the IT field. Having been formerly trained as a classical musician, working toward perfection is a built-in instinct. During the co-op experience, however, I learned something more important than simply to be outstanding: I learned to be inclusive and to be flexible. These are invaluable life lessons that I would have never learned otherwise.
5.) Talk a little bit about the value of a co-op or internship experience versus simply learning in the classroom.
Katie – I think the real world co-op experience is really invaluable. They teach you a broad spectrum of topics, but you get into the real world and have to deal with different types of personalities and different processes. Every company is different. I feel like even if you aren’t doing exactly what you want to do, just the experience of being in an office is invaluable – I’ll definitely know more in a year from now about what I want to do, but I have a more realistic understanding of what I’ll be doing after graduation. I always enjoyed biology and anatomy in high school, but wasn’t really sold on being a doctor. My parents kind of pushed me toward getting a more technical degree – I found biomedical engineering and it was the perfect mesh of my technical skills and my desire to help people.
Christine – I love being able to co-op because it lets me see what kind of work I will actually be doing once I graduate. Learning in the classroom is nice, but it doesn’t allow students to actually put their knowledge to the test. I have learned much more at my co-ops than I have in school because I am able to see a problem, form a goal and achieve it.
Isabel – Your co-op or internship experience provides a hands-on learning environment to practice and dive into the technical space. More importantly, it is a great opportunity to demonstrate your potential as a talented individual to prospective employers. Last but not least, it could be the start of a fantastic career path. The key is to find your niche and move forward!
6.) Where do you see yourself in five years?
Katie – I would love to work for a company that has a lot of interaction with patients in hospitals – I would love to be the person managing that interaction between what the doctor wants and what the company makes, that initial development process of ideas for new medical equipment.
Christine – In five years I would like to be living in Florida with a great job, either through my current company or at a new one that deals with unmanned aircraft systems. I would also like to be thinking of a family by then, too.
Isabel – As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” In five years, I could be a project manager, an operation lead or a software developer at GE. I could be a successful businesswoman running my own company. The future is limitless. One thing is for certain – I am confident about my technical skills and my ability to lead others because of this co-op experience.
7.) What advice would you have for students interested in being part of a co-op but not knowing how to get started or what is available?
Katie – UC’s co-op program is amazing. It helps me focus on what I want to do after college. I would tell students to network; talk to people in classes above you who have done some co-ops. Everyone is willing to give advice or share experience, and a lot of our professors know different companies in the area.
Christine – I would definitely do co-op, no matter what major you have. It gives you great experience and will look good on resumes for finding a job right after graduation. Not only does co-op help you better understand your school material, it also allows you to connect with other engineers or full-time employees who have wonderful stories that let you see all of the opportunities that are available. A co-op also will let you know if you like your major or not. I honestly don’t know why I chose aerospace engineering other than the fact that I like planes, but so far I have loved it. Not knowing where to start is fine; pick something that interests you and co-op experiences will help you decide whether or not it’s the right choice.
Isabel – There are several ways to locate available internship information. Most of the companies have it listed on their website under the “job search” section. The College Career Fair is another good option to obtain internship information. Generally speaking, you should start preparing for the interview a year before applying for the job. To get started, consider working with your academic advisor or other professionals for resume writing advice and mockup interview practice. University of Cincinnati students can also contact advisors from the Professional Practice Division for co-op course and Career Fair information.