Upperclassman shares Cincinnati co-op experience
Freshman Year: College is just amazing; I wish I could spend the rest of my life here.
Sophomore Year: Ah, it seems alright, though I am getting tired with all the different classes and extracurricular activities I am a part of.
Junior Year: I am tired, just one more year. Gotta pull myself through it.
This is me, all through the three years of university life. Wait, now you must wonder where the senior year is. Did I drop out? Did I get too busy? Or am I just speechless?
Fortunately, it is none of the reasons stated above. While I was just about to enter my junior year in college, I decided to take a step. Well, you can call it drastic or exciting, but I chose to embark on a new journey altogether. Most engineering students are familiar with the term “co-op.”
For those of you who don’t, cooperative education (Co-op) is just like an internship program that is designed for college students to receive some experience and training in their field of study. The only difference between the co-op and an internship is that the latter is usually undertaken in the summer and can be paid or unpaid. Co-ops are usually paid and can be included in any semester over the course of your degree. In fact, sometimes, co-ops last longer than one semester if the employer and student make an agreement; they could be full time or part time, and students have the option to choose if they wish to enroll in classes during semester or not.
Why did I choose the co-op life? Apparently, most engineering students enroll in it at least once in their four years of college. In fact, if you google “co-op,” there will be a plethora of results dedicated to “engineering co-ops,” for instance. But wait, I am not an engineering major. Then why? Honestly, it started out when a friend of mine, an engineering major, introduced this whole new idea to me, when he was offered a co-op in a different state than his school. Most people who are close to me can say confidently that I do not like stepping out of my comfort zone. I am not positively receptive to change and that I cannot tolerate indecisiveness in life.
Guess what? This co-op bullet hit all those three birds in one shot.
To begin with, I applied to about three, just out of curiosity, in a different states. When I bagged this one in early August, when I was already preparing to return for the fall to renew my vows with academia, I was so unsure about taking it up. A few weeks and multiple trips to the economics department, career services office and the Office of International Affairs (yes, I am an international student,) I fruitfully emerged a winner. I had finally done it: Successfully dropped out of my classes, enrolled myself into a co-op class offered by the career services, waived my scholarship goodbye for the semester, got a work permit and marched to the airport, with bags filled with hope and a burning desire to learn (and clothes, of course).
Now, you may ask: Why a co-op and not a summer internship? Honestly, finding a co-op is easier. In my case, an international student finding an internship without requiring citizenship in the U.S. is like finding a needle in a haystack. Secondly, few students think it’s really wise to take the semester off and get behind in school. But spending about four and a half months with an employer as opposed to two months (for a summer internship) will make you learn more about your job and teach you things you probably wouldn’t have grasped in the swift two months of summer that breezed away in a specifically designed summer intern plan by the company. You’d never have the opportunity to explore other departments and be restricted to specific designated areas in the company.
Moving to Cincinnati, and working at this company was one of the best decisions I think I’ve made in a long time. First off, it was a new place; I had to do all the thousand things that you do when you move. Nevertheless, it was worth it. A month into working made me realize that my boss was the kindest man on Earth who did not make me feel like an intern. He took me to every meeting he went to and explained every term in the book. There were times where he relied on my decision and asked about my opinions at every discussion. The dismayed stories you hear and watch on TV about interns getting asked to buy coffee for the team and being ridiculed at every single chance in their struggle to fit into a fast-paced life makes you wonder about dignity. But I was helped in every possible way to transition from a student into a full-time employee.
I have learned the applications of every trick and trade that’s only mentioned in books at school. I’ve become more professional and have polished my communication skills (sans the college slang). This experience has enabled me to improve my skills and learn new ones. When I started applying for internships, I always chose those that said “…must be an Economics major,” yet none of them really stated how I’d be using my degree apart from a brief job description. However, having this experience gives a direction to my future career plan. Now, while I am in the process of applying for summer internships, I know which jobs not to consider. Additionally, I have made so many new connections with people that are high up in the firm and I am sure that will help me someday.
Finally, my co-op quenched the sole reason why students look for internships: “making the resume look good.” Having a co-op has been rewarding; the feedback and recommendations will be an additional bonus, but what matters more is the fact that I actually enjoyed taking the semester off to do something that I was passionate about. Yes, you might step a little behind your degree plan or the expected graduation date. But then again, nothing comes without pros and cons, does it? At the end of the day, going to college and completing your coursework isn’t everything!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The company name has been withheld upon request.