Co-op Stories and Advice
Our students are highly encouraged to participate in an internship and/or co-op experiences, allowing them to learn more about a specific area of engineering with practicing engineers on real-world projects. Many of these positions lead to full-time employment after graduation.
- Internships are typically a summer only experience, and if they are local, there is potential for the student to continue working part-time through the school year.
- Co-ops require a semester or a semester and a summer away from campus. Students maintain full-time student status while on co-op, and resume their studies when they return to campus. Intern and co-op students may also be able to receive academic credit through their department.
We recently asked our students three questions concerning their co-op experiences. Some of their responses are below.
- What types of projects are you currently working on?
- How is your co-op applicable to your major and your career goals?
- What advice do you have for future co-op students?
SO, Computer Engineering
Co-Op: Verizon Wireless RF, Schertz, TX
I’m currently helping turn on some 4G cell sites in the San Antonio area. Last week I was doing baseline driving, and next week I’ll be spending time in the field with the Cell Techs working on the towers in the field.
My co-op is showing me all the possible applications of computers and engineering technology, and how the hardware and network designs are still evolving. It has confirmed to me the future demand for people with both Computer Science and Electrical Engineering backgrounds.
If you do your co-op earlier in your degree path, you’ll be able to better decide what you want your focus to be, and what classes you will benefit from. I’m looking forward to taking discrete math as I’ve seen many applications of it, and I know I could use it to benefit future baseline testing for Verizon.
JR, Mechanical Engineering
Co-op: NASA Space Center, Houston, TX
ABOVE: Joan Yule in NASA's SEV during a test drive.
In my current tour I am enhancing the digital landscape for the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV). Creating a realistic looking environment to emulate different surfaces, i.e., lunar or martian, is crucial in training astronauts for future missions with the SEV. Along with coding ascetically pleasing visuals, I am adding sound to the simulation in the form of motors, collisions, etc. The majority of my tour will be spent adding in pilot/copilot capabilities for the crew members driving the SEV.
I have always been fascinated by space exploration, therefore, working for NASA is a huge step towards working for human space exploration. I get the best of both worlds by programming how the SEV simulation operates as well as testing the hardware and digital displays within the rover.
Do as many co-ops as possible, to get a feel for what you are interested in and what gets you excited about going to work each day. If you plan to co-op in a STEM field, I recommend taking extra programming classes, because the majority of the mechanical systems that were being used are rapidly transitioning to computer driven software. Also, be in involved in clubs at school that fit your interests, that way when co-op hires look at your resume, they can better place you for a project according to your interests.
FROM A UNL GRAD:
Ken Erdman, P.E.
Omaha Public Power District
What advice do you have for future co-op students?
Don’t commit yourself to the idea of graduating in four years. You’ll need a break somewhere in there and the experience of a co-op is invaluable.
How does your organization benefit by hiring co-op students?
- We get a chance to work with the students in our unique work setting. Over the last several years many of our permanent professional staff hires are previous co-op students. Experience has demonstrated a high success level with bringing co-ops into our organization after graduation.
- We get a current perspective on the state of Engineering education by working with the co-ops that we can use here to improve our continuing education programs.
- We are able to provide work environment insights to the students that they take back to school and share with their instructors/peers. This mentoring activity helps us all.
- Co-ops are by and large very enthusiastic employees that come to work energized and ready to learn our version of ‘the real world’. This enthusiasm is carried through our organization and benefits us all.
It is truly a pleasure to see the fresh young faces of our future showing up to work and learn here. Also, I was the first OPPD co-op student (1982), so I am somewhat biased.
FROM A UNL GRAD:
UNL graduate, Chemical Engineering, 2008
Refinery Supervisor, Cargill Corn Milling, Eddyville, IA
Cargill gets value from the co-op and intern hires through improved talent selection. Both the student and the company have sufficient time to evaluate one another for full-time employment following graduation.
I started with Cargill as a co-op engineer in 2007. We give our co-ops are responsibilities on par with new, full-time hires, so they get a true taste of life after graduation. My experiences during my co-op were the biggest factor in deciding to return to Cargill.
SR, Mechanical Engineering
Co-op: Omaha Public Power District (OPPD),
Ft. Calhoun, NE
Right now I am mainly working in the construction department in charge of solving pressing issues for the plant restart. Everything is pretty hectic as you can imagine but going well. I have worked for many different people so far, giving me a wide variety of projects and goals to accomplish.
This coop is helping me to decide what type of mechanical engineering I want to do. With such a wide variety of options and career paths, it difficult to know what interests you most, but being able to work with an actual company and see how the real world works is a definite plus.
Meet as many people as you can when you work for the company so a lot of people get to know you and remember you later on when you're applying for a job. Always do the best you can at everything they assign you to do because you never know what kind of lasting impression its going to make.
JR, Biological Systems Engineering
Co-op: Cargill Corn Milling, Eddyville, IA
I am currently working on just learning the process of corn milling that they have here, which is a project in itself! I am also working on two optimization projec,ts including the efficiency of heat exchangers and ensuring that we are using the correct amount of chemicals to regenerate the resin we use to clean up our product. Safety is another project that basically stretches throughout my co-op. It is my responsibility to ensure that I keep myself and others around me safe by doing observations of myself and others as we perform field work and to attend weekly safety meetings.
This co-op is showing me the industrial side of my major, which is extremely helpful. I am majoring with an emphasis in food and bioprocessing so this co-op is definitely showing me that it is important not only to understand the product itself but also to know how the machinery you use to process will effect the product.
My advice would be first of all, definitely do a co-op if at all possible. You can learn engineering practices from a book but nothing helps those concepts stick better than actually seeing them in field and using them to figure out your projects. I would also remind students when they do a project to not forget the simple stuff. Often times the easiest things that you learn are the most helpful in problem solving!
JR, Mechanical Engineering
Co-op: Hamilton Sunstrand, York, NE
Currently at the plant we are working on improving one of the production cells. This has involved designing a new layout of the machines and many organizational projects. I have been using AutoCAD to design shadowboxes and working with other companies to design things such as shelving units to make the cell more functional.
My co-op experience really requires that you have the mindset of an engineer and are able to look at a problem from several different angles, determine which is best, and push forward. It can also take some creative thinking to come up with the best solutions. Another large part of the experience is communication skills. For the projects that I am working on I have to communicate with the shop workers to see what would be best for them, fellow co-workers in my department, and suppliers to design things that we need.
First of all, a co-op is a great experience! I recommend that every student looks into taking a co-op. It is a great way to get an extended work experience and earn some money to pay for school. I know it delays your graduation a semester but it is worth it to gain the real-world experience. If you receive a co-op make sure you take every task you are given seriously.
Everything you do has an impact on the company and will be noticed. Make sure that you're organized. This is vital because you will be doing several different things at once so it is important that you are able to keep all of these things straight. Most importantly, enjoy your experience and have fun with it.
JR, Chemical Engineering
Co-Op: Kellogg Company-Omaha Cereal Plant
Most of the work for the interns at Kellogg Company begins with writing up a scope of work for a project given to you by your engineering managers or parts of the Continuous Improvement team for safety purposes, energy savings, or efficiency within the plant’s production lines. During the process of writing the scope the intern is given complete control on the design and method on how to approach the problem. CAD work was an essential part of this process to model obscure objects in the plant to both the trades and the engineering staff. After you have finalized the scope you, as an intern, have to direct the necessary outsider trades that Kellogg Company hires and get quotes for the projects. After quotes are gathered you decide based on the level of money whether it will be an expense project or if you will need to put it on the capital plan for the plant. If the project reaches the capital plan it must be routed through both the senior leadership team at the Omaha plant and corporate in Battle Creek, MI to approve the funding for the project. After the funding is approved, you coordinate with the construction management trades and settle on a down time in the plant when construction can occur. During construction, the intern is available for engineering consulting and helps oversee the demolition/installation of said project. After the demolition/installation is complete, the intern is also in charge of troubleshooting both the startup and the continued issues with the project. Also, the intern assists with the implementation of standard work across several job functions which include comprehensive work study, observations, analysis and improvement of tasks to advance efficiency.
This co-op is more applicable to a mechanical engineering major, but is still very pertinent in a chemical engineering undergraduate's career path. Being a jack of all trades when it comes to the engineering workforce is key in opening up job opportunities. You WILL NOT be doing only chemical engineering or any other engineering your entire life, so you will want to gain as much experience in a variety of work spheres as you can. Being well-versed in numerous fields makes you more desirable to potential employers than those who are one-dimensional in their work experience. This co-op offers unparalleled diversity within your projects and will give you a definite advantage for the work force ahead.
When going into a new environment, always try to soak up as much information as possible. Ask for new and diverse opportunities as you most likely won’t be doing the same thing for the rest of your life. Gaining knowledge and experience in a diverse series of work functions will give you a competitive edge on your coworkers.
Supervisor: Matthew Tupper
Mechanical Engineering Major, Class of 1991
Co-ops are a great recruiting tool for our organization. Over the past two years, we have hired three Co-ops to permanent employees.
SR, Chemical Engineering
Co-op: Novartis Consumer Health, Lincoln, NE
I have been working on some process engineering tasks, engineering communication and engineering documentation. I have helped process engineers with drawings of flow diagrams to understand the performance and control of some pieces of equipment. I have been helping the engineering department to build and establish a comprehensive online database for validations, investigations, corrective and preventative actions, deviations and laboratory reports. I have also been involved in the reviewing process of some cleaning validations and corrective and preventative actions. I have been assisting the facilities management to reinforce safety procedures in the plant.
I took a process engineering class during the fall 2011 semester and it was one of my favorite classes. I appreciate seeing its applications in the real world. I had also learned the appropriate wording and presentation of engineering documents; I have seen an improvement in my communication skills. It is also very helpful to be around so many professionals with diverse backgrounds. I can ask questions about their experiences and I learn a lot from it. I have discovered some career options that I had never considered possible. Initially, I was debating if I should go to graduate school or just join the workforce after my undergraduate degree, but I did not know much about any of the options. Now it is different, I have more insight about those two options, and my objectives and goals are clearer.
It is a great way to learn more about a company and about oneself in a setting other than school. I would recommend it to all the students, as it will be very insightful for their aspirations. They should be ready to learn at a fast pace and not be shy about asking many questions. They should make sure that they know and understand the safety procedures before engaging into any task.
JR, Biological Systems Engineering
Co-op: Novartis Consumer Health, Lincoln, NE
I am working on a variety of projects now, and a lot of the engineers have gotten me involved to help them accomplish different tasks. I am currently working on an engineering database and learning about the equipment, facilities, documentation, and operations. I have conducted an experiment to evaluate products, and summarized reports related to process performance. I am continuously updating our company database, which includes documentation such as change controls, validations, corrective and preventative actions, deviations, and laboratory investigations. I have also assisted in the reinforcement of safety procedures at Novartis.
Working at Novartis has allowed me to utilize what I have learned thus far at UNL, and apply my knowledge to real life applications in the pharmaceutical industry. I have used problem solving and critical thinking skills when performing tasks, and learned how to communicate effectively within a team. I have shadowed and learned a lot from the professionals around me, and having this experience has been valuable in helping me decide exactly what aspect of engineering I want to pursue in the future.
Having a co-op experience in the work force is a great opportunity to see what your interests are and learn about different engineering applications. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from the professionals around you for advice and to hear about their individual experiences. Also, encourage other students to do co-ops and internships.Enjoy the experience and be actively involved in what you are doing to learn as much as you can!
Walt Disney World® Resort
The Industrial Engineering Department at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has an excellent co-op program. It provides our organization with the ability to provide more services to our internal clients than we could with our staff of full time Industrial Engineers. Our co-ops have the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of a project—collecting, entering, and analyzing data; leading studies in our parks, resorts, and back-of-house operations; managing projects; and reporting findings and recommendations to managers and executives. We also use our co-op program to identify potential future full time hires.
Young professionals who have participated in our co-op program, especially if they work with us over several terms, typically have greater knowledge of our business and the tools we use than other candidates. In most cases, they have already established relationships with our internal clients and partners and can more quickly get up to speed on their projects once they transition to a full time role.
Novartis Consumer Health
Novartis is committed to being an active corporate citizen in the local community in which it resides. In Lincoln, an important part of that is the partnership it has with University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL), hiring co-op students and interns the past several years.
It has been our experience that UNL students effectively translate their classroom studies into the business environment. This speaks well of both students and the training / education they receive at the university. Novartis is proud of the relationship it has with UNL and the company’s ability to provide real-life work experience for the school’s future graduates.