ChBE Students Benefit from Co-op Experience

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Photo credit: Lauren Van Exter

Co-ops are co-operative education opportunities that involve work in a designated industry for a 6-month or 1-year period during a student's undergraduate career.  The goal of a co-op is two-fold: to provide students with valuable, hands-on experience in their field of study, and to provide employers with access to new recruits.

“In the past, doing co-ops (especially 6 month long co-ops) was almost impossible because of the tight structure of the chemical engineering curriculum, and because most of our courses are only offered once a year,” said Ganesh Sriram, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE). “However, we were able to offer more flexibility during the last academic year, resulting in six student co-ops.”

Priyanka Hiriyanna, Nhi Thao Le, Gerry Ma, Hartej Singh, James Stephen, Lauren Van Exter, Sulin Wu and Jessica Young were the six ChBE students who participated in the 2016/2017 co-op cohort.

Lauren Van Exter, a ChBE senior, took part in two co-ops at Exxob Mobil in Baytown, Texas, and at Johnson & Johnson in Skillman, New Jersey, respectively.

“I was hesitant about graduating a year late to do these co-ops, but it was definitely the best decision I have ever made,” Van Exter said. “At ExxonMobil, I gained hands on manufacturing experience, while at Johnson & Johnson, I gained an appreciation for the supply chain system. Now that I’ve returned to my studies, I find so many of the industry applications we discuss in class relatable to my co-ops. For example, at ExxonMobil I performed a distillation tower inspection – when learning about towers in ChBE 426, I could easily picture the entire system.”

Now that Van Exter has established her passion for manufacturing, she knows precisely how to kick off her career.

“It’s significantly easier to talk to recruiters, since I have over a year of engineering experience,” Van Exter continued. “I urge everyone to co-op if possible! Many other competitive schools have it built into the curriculum and those are the students we are competing with for jobs.”

Another co-op student, Priyanka Hiriyanna, also a ChBE senior, agrees with this assessment.  Hiriyanna also co-oped at Johnson & Johnson for six months (July 2016 - January 2017) and enjoyed the experience.

“Co-oping is an excellent experience,” said Hiriyanna. “It's a productive break from the rigor of the engineering curriculum. I was definitely struggling in the major and the co-op offered the opportunity for me to take a break that was really valuable in terms of my professional and personal development. I learned an entirely new skill-set – in practice – rather then just the theory learned in a classroom, and it forced me to strengthen my problem-solving skills.”

She continued, “The experience allowed me to feel successful, and when I returned to school the next semester, I was able to apply what I had learned to my academics – I’m a stronger student now as a result.”

Both students agree that in addition to the work knowledge, networking – making those important connections with future employers and friends – was the best part of the experience.

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Published October 24, 2017