For many Drexel University students the opportunity to gain professional training through one or more co-ops is an integral part of their education, and the vast majority of Drexel students participate in the co-op program. Even a student who loathes their co-op can get valuable experience and learn important lessons. Gaining practical experience, discovering what they don’t want to do and building connections that can lead to job opportunities after graduation are just some of the takeaways for alumni and current students who have participated in the program.
Drexel physics major Jared Haughton held a position at Army Research Lab (ARL). ARL works on varied projects relating to materials engineering, basic science, and energy technology with a focus on the applications of this research for national defense. Haughton reflected that his choice to work at a research institution outside of academia gave him the chance to work with equipment that had applications well beyond the scope of an academic institution like Drexel.
“I worked at [ARL], and I got to study atomic structure using high end research equipment, including the Army’s particle accelerator … I gained a lot of experience working in a formal, non-academic lab setting and also got to work in a setting where my research had real, tangible products — something I never got to experience in academia,” Haughton explained.
However, many students find that gaining work experience is just one of many factors which one must be conscious of when choosing a co-op. Drexel entertainment and arts management graduate Brett Axler — who held a co-op position at Xfinity Live! — stresses how his choice of co-op helped him evaluate his career direction.
“It really helped me decide what I didn’t want to do for a living, which is very important to find out early,” Axler said in an email conversation.
Axler’s co-op employer Xfinity Live! runs an entertainment district inside of the Wells Fargo Complex. It houses restaurants, expansive audio and visual systems for sports events as well as movie showings and even a miniature turf field on which activities and concerts are held.
“While on [co-op] with Xfinity Live! I was in charge of all audio-visual elements in the five venues … from fixing and maintaining video projectors to advancing audio gear for talent, they kept me busy,” Axler continued.
This situation isn’t unique. Many students find that their time on co-op is helpful in determining what they would like to do for a career.
Lynne Hickle, Executive Director of Cooperative Education at the Steinbright Career Development Center, agrees to the fact that practical knowledge about career direction is an important consideration for students to make when deciding where they want to complete their co-op.
“Often the goals students have going into the program are very different than the ones they end up meeting in the end. And while those goals change, they are no less valuable … While initially it may be disappointing and stressful to realize you might be on the wrong track it certainly is better to figure that out before you graduate [rather] than after you graduate. When the critical discovery is made early on, it often saves students and their families a lot of time and money,” Hickle stated in an email conversation.
Often students will be offered jobs by a former employer when they graduate. In fact, a recent survey of alumni from the class of 2014 indicated that 50 percent of co-op participants working full-time had received a job offer from a former co-op employer.
“What that statistic reflects, among other things, is that our employers engage in this process for the long term. They aren’t looking for a co-op student. They are looking for a full-time employee by participating in the co-op process. And because of that, they take the program very seriously, by giving students real work to see how well they do with it, introduce the co-op students to members of the organization to form networks and support the student along their way to success,” Hickle wrote.
This statistic seems to hold water when hearing anecdotes from students. Drexel computer engineering major Nathan Schomer did research on robotics and software development geared towards guided projectiles at Army Research Lab, and he made connections that led to further work.
“I was able to get part-time work through [ARL], and since it’s such a small lab I was able to make solid personal connections with everybody else there … it sounds like they want me to come back long term, so it’s definitely a good career prospect for me,” Schomer wrote.
Every Drexel student may not be lucky enough to get a co-op where they can manage audio-visual systems for a large entertainment complex, research new software for guidance systems or study atomic structure with a particle accelerator, but every Drexel student can learn lessons from current students or alumni who have successfully navigated the co-op process and come out with a career on the other side.