A new UD co-op program in civil and environmental engineering provides undergraduate students valuable work experience and networking opportunities.

Workforce development

Engineering co-op program provides experience, networking opportunities

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4 p.m., July 15, 2013--In today’s competitive job market, employers want to see recent graduates with practical work experience who bring invaluable knowledge and skill sets to their companies, particularly in growing fields like engineering.

To help UD students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) reach that goal, department chair Harry (Tripp) Shenton, and Michael Chajes, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, have launched an optional cooperative work experience program.

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Created in partnership with the University’s Career Services Center, the program allows CEE undergraduate students to work full-time at a local engineering firm while taking classes, and still graduate in four years. 

Students are required to work for 26 weeks (six months) at a local company, while taking evening and online courses part-time. 

Those interested apply during their sophomore year and attend mandatory meetings before being selected to complete the program during their junior and senior year.

According to Chajes, the program coordinator, allowing candidates to sign up during their sophomore year offers students the opportunity to clarify their academic focus, test their career interests and apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to real world situations.

“If we offer it too early in their academic career, students don’t bring the needed skills, but too late and the experience will not inform the students of career choices,” he said.

In addition, Chajes said the program allows the companies to work with fresh talent while students gain practical work experience 

As one of 16 rising seniors currently enrolled in the co-op, Allison Murray, an Honors Program student majoring in civil engineering, said working for Wohlsen Construction this summer and upcoming fall gives her the chance to apply her knowledge in a different way, and get involved with a variety of job tasks.

“I have had the opportunity to attend a groundbreaking at Iron Hill Museum, visit other job sites, participate in the bidding process for construction jobs, learn more about engineering drawings, and help out in estimating on various projects,” she said.

Murray said she believes the experience she is gaining will help her find a challenging and lucrative career with a local company after graduation.

Currently, CEE students can work for 23 local companies and organizations, including the Delaware Department of Transportation, Landmark Science and Engineering, Nason Construction Inc., Pennoni Associates Inc., RETTEW Associates Inc., and Whiting-Turner. Each company already employs UD alumni, which offers current students the chance to network. 

Matthew Brink, director of UD’s Career Services Center, said establishing this co-op strengthens partnerships between UD and a high quality employer base by engaging the students and employers in meaningful career development, which often leads to job offers.

Citing the 2013 survey conducted by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), Brink said 63.1 percent of all paid interns participating in cooperative work programs and internships receive at least one job offer. 

“UD’s commitment to launch this type of program shows the initiative and forward thinking approach that is necessary in a very competitive employment marketplace to ensure that our students have access and opportunities to some of the region’s top employers,” Brink said.

Although the co-op is in its inaugural year, Chajes said 30 rising civil and environmental engineering juniors have already expressed interest in the program. 

Jordan Deshon, a rising junior civil engineering major and environmental engineering and mathematics minor, said he believes the program will help prepare him for the rigors he expects to face while simultaneously working full-time and pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering. 

“I think I will have a great advantage over those who did not participate in the co-op program because of the connections I will gain with employers through my time spent working for a company. In addition, I will have useful experience on my resume, which will be appealing to future employers,” Deshon said.

Looking ahead, Chajes said he envisions adding a reflective portion to the program in which students will develop a technical project based on something they saw or did during the co-op and look at it from a sustainability standpoint. 

Given time, he said he believes the program could serve as a model for other engineering disciplines within the college to help students succeed in the workforce. 

For more information about the co-op program, visit the website.

Article by Collette L. O’Neal

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