Co-op: the perfect stimulus plan

Nov 17, 2009

In today's economy, Kettering University's cooperative education program can offer economic advantages as a personalized stimulus plan for almost any company.

The difference is palatable: during the Great Depression, there were no safeguards in place to insure the viability of the stock exchange and banking system, which led to an inevitable crash. Additionally, the current recession is significantly worse than those of the 1970s and 1980s based on the number of job losses the country has experienced since 2007. More importantly, companies continue to outsource labor to organizations overseas and in many cases, these international firms obtain research and development functions as well. As a result, U.S. based companies have scaled back R & D, which is a significant driver of economic development.

Today, it’s imperative that companies take a strategic approach to staffing, focusing on specific talents and experiences to move organizations forward in this challenging global economy. That’s why cooperative education can offer economic advantages as a personalized stimulus plan for almost any company.

Co-Op: A Lifeline to Recovery
Today, more than 80 of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 employ co-op students. This type of opportunity allows organizations to “test run” young people with new, creative ideas who can transition from college to career with limited development costs associated with training new employees. These students have worked with the company’s state-of-the-art technology as part of their academic program and have learned the skills necessary to navigate the muddy waters of the corporate infrastructure, particularly during lean economic periods. Kettering University (www.kettering.edu) students, for instance, earn more than two years of professional engineering and management experience at companies and organizations such as the FBI, CIA, NASA, Sandia National Laboratories, IBM, GM, Ford and Harley Davidson before their senior years and often receive job offers before they graduate.
 
“We use our co-op brand to set ourselves apart from other top-ranked schools. Especially in this economy, we take advantage of co-branding Kettering with 600 corporate partners,” explained Barb Sosin, Kettering’s director of Admissions. Currently, Kettering students earn $40,000 to $65,000 over the course of their co-op program, which prompted the University to dub its current marketing campaign, “Co-op is my stimulus package.”

For industry executives like Chris Nielsen ’87, vice president of Purchasing for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America and a Kettering Board of Trustee, co-op offers important advantages for both companies and students. “Co-op provides students the opportunity to practice the application of theory while building their academic foundation. This simultaneous learning gives them the inspiration to further strengthen academic foundations to tackle the complex challenges they know they will ultimately face,” he said.
 
Nielsen attributes his current success to the exposure he received to different aspects of engineering in his co-op assignments, which ranged from design to manufacturing. “I was able to find my passion for ‘making things,’” he said, adding that finding his passion “was a key element of my success.”

What make Co-op Students and Grads Different?
Kettering 2006 grad Sam Perlmutter certainly knows the answer. Perlmutter of Pittsburg, Penn., is a Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, where he conducts research on the neurophysiology of trunk impairment in post-stroke individuals.

Much of his work involves in-depth application of engineering principles. A year ago, he approached Kettering about developing a small co-op program for undergraduate research at Northwestern and now has two Kettering students engaged in his department’s work.

One student—Junior Briana Reprogle of Noblesville, Ind., who majors in Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University—is developing algorithms to analyze kinetics and kinematics of children riding tricycles to gain an understanding into how kids develop the skills necessary to properly stabilize and pedal efficiently. “This will help provide insight into enhancements for the trike that can help assimilate this learning process,” Perlmutter said.
 
Under the supervision of Perlmutter’s advisor, Mohsen Makhsous, Ph.D., Reprogle is also involved in a study that simulates pressure ulcers on both normal and spinal cord injury animal models.
 
 “Since pressure ulcers are one of the main causes of death in people who suffer a spinal cord injury, our main objective is to prevent the occurrence of pressure ulcers both internally and externally. Briana is working on a study that uses an ultrasound probe and force sensor to help clinicians predict the occurrence of ulcers before they evolve to the skin surface. Once you see them on the skin, it’s too late,” Perlmutter said.
 
Kettering Junior Mike Bajema, an Electrical Engineering major from Zeeland, Mich., fabricates and designs electromechanical components for all of the department labs and continues working extensively with Perlmutter and other researchers.

“This term Mike is observing experiments in a lab related to movement generation in individuals with Parkinson’s disease,” Perlmutter said. “The research involves impairments in the basal ganglia and requires a good understanding of neuronal biophysics for calculating conduction times of the nervous system as well as extremely advanced signal processing, which is the backbone of Electrical Engineering,” he added.

Overall, Perlmutter is very pleased with Reprogle’s and Bajema’s work. “When we established our co-op program, we knew that the students who would join us must be the very brightest we could find and have a passion for this sort of work. They are very competent and dedicated, and have shown much more than we expected. When you have that kind of passion and dedication, it doesn’t feel like work,” he said.

Bajema and Reprogle agree.  
“It’s been just a great experience,” Bajema said, adding that he’s engaged in “a lot of projects and now I’m considering graduate studies because of this experience.”

“I always had a feeling that I wanted to study for my Ph.D. one day and now I’m even more interested in the biomedical field because of this co-op,” Reprogle said. “The diversity of projects is huge and the experience I’ve received in experimental design is excellent,” she added.

To learn more about how cooperative education can be your company’s stimulus package, visit http://www.co-op.edu/.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Guide to the Best Co-Op Colleges and Employers by the National Commission for Cooperative Education, 2009-2010, where this article first appeared.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
810.762.9538
gerwin@kettering.edu