Purdue co-op program gives students employment edge

January 31, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Students who participate in cooperative education programs offered by Purdue University's Office of Professional Practice are more likely to receive jobs and earn higher salaries than those who do not.

"About 50 percent of the students are hired by their co-op companies, and the rest typically get two and a half times the job offers and earn 10 percent higher initial salaries compared to Purdue students who have a similar grade-point average and do not participate in the co-op program," said Eckhard Groll, director of the Office of Professional Practice and a professor of mechanical engineering.

The term professional practice refers to work in the field, compared to academic training. Around 600 companies have hired students through a variety of cooperative education programs, including about 200 employers who have done so in the past two years. The list ranges from large U.S. and global companies to Indiana operations, including those in the auto, aircraft, food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, Groll said.

The office was established in 1954 primarily to provide a five-session cooperative education program students begin as sophomores. The students alternate semesters studying and working full time for a company, repeating the cycle five times with the same employer.

"It takes five years to complete, so you graduate a year later, but you have 18-20 months of work experience upon graduation," Groll said. "In many cases, our co-op students are already working as professionals in their respective fields by the time they finish their degrees. They are already supervising others. It's quite powerful."

About 450 students currently participate in the five-session program.

"Working for a company makes you realize why the classes you take are important and can refine your interests," said Phelan Bybee, a sophomore in biomedical engineering from Maquoketa, Iowa. "You realize how important it is to be as multifaceted as possible while still being specialized toward your main goal."

The program serves the colleges of Engineering, Technology, Science, Liberal Arts, Agriculture and the Krannert School of Management.

"Within those six colleges we deal with about 30 disciplines," Groll said.

Eric Wang, a senior in electrical engineering from Greenville, N.C., said: "There are many advantages to being in a co-op, the top two being money and experience. If you are short on money to pay for college, the co-op is a great solution instead of loans. In addition, the valuable experiences one gains in the program increases a co-op student's chance of employment."

The office also offers a three-session co-op education program and international programs. Students can start the three-session program as late as their junior year. They take one year off to work full-time for a company and return to finish their degrees. The program also takes five years to complete. About 150 students currently are participating in the three-session program.

Students must have a GPA of 2.8 for the five-session program and 2.6 for the three-session program.

"The big difference between our co-op program and internships is the co-op program gives you more experience and effectiveness in the job," Groll said. "You are a much more effective and efficient worker for the company, and this is reflected in the responsibilities and tasks given to you."

However, students are sometimes able to parlay an internship into the co-op program.

"If you have had an internship for a company and you liked the experience, we will contact the employer on your behalf to see if we can convert the internship into a three-session co-op program," Groll said. "We will work as hard as we can to place every student who wants to participate."

The office's flagship international program is the Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education, or GEARE, which offers professional experience and study abroad. Students complete one domestic and one international internship and then one study-abroad semester at a university in the country where they did their internship. They start the international programs in their junior year.

Students may complete research internships at partner universities for credit instead of pay. The students are required to complete 12 credits of the language spoken in the country where they work and study abroad. They also have to complete a cultural orientation before they go abroad.

"They don't have to be fluent," Groll said. "The courses they take are taught in English, so they need just basic language skills to get around in the culture."

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Source: Eckhard Groll, 765-494-7430, groll@purdue.edu