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PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo NOVEMBER 2005 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 3
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Road to the Real World
By Lynne Shallcross

Students at Mississippi State can check out an engineering career while still in college.

WHAT IS A CO-OP ANYWAY? Many students might not know, especially engineering students who hardly get to see the outside of a classroom or library.

Mike Mathews has spent the past 30 years trying to change that. And it's been quite the year for Mathews and the Cooperative Education Program at Mississippi State University. The program not only celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but it also welcomes its 10,000th student. And that's not all. Mathews, assistant professor of engineering and associate director of the co-op program, was also honored with the 2005 ASEE Clement J. Freund Award for his exemplary leadership in cooperative education.

Co-op students at work, clockwise from top left: Matthew Robertson at Citgo Petroleum Corp.;Mississippi State's program, which Mathews calls a professional training program where students gain practical experience related to their studies, originated in the College of Engineering in 1955. It includes students from all majors, although engineering students make up 60 percent. More than 600 students are enrolled in the program now, which consists of three semesters of co-op work. Mathews says the students, who have to apply to the program as well as interview for co-op spots with corporations or agencies, usually alternate the co-op semesters with semesters of class.

Mathews says the program is valuable in helping engineering students experience the field, work with professionals and confirm that engineering is the right choice for them-or discover it's not. "It lets them get some exposure prior to graduating," he says. "It helps them see what it is and see where they're going."

Co-ops also give companies and government agencies, including NASA, Dow Chemical, Chevron and DuPont, a firsthand look at promising potential hires. More than 2,300 employers have done just that over the past 50 years of the program. And the money's not half-bad either. Mathews says his students earned a little more than $6 million from their co-ops last year. Some companies and agencies even offer scholarships on top of earnings.

What's not to like? Nothing, Mathews says. "Quite frankly, I've never had a student say they wish they had not co-op'd."

Lynne Shallcross is associate editor of Prism.

 

FEATURES
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT -  By Thomas K. Grose, Mary Lord and Lynne Shallcross
DIVINE INTERVENTION -  By Alvin P. Sanoff
FIRST TO FILE - By Bethany Halford
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TEACHING TOOLBOX
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TEACHING: Starting With Square One - By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz
BOOK REVIEW: Power Play - By Robin Tatu
ON CAMPUS: Road to the Real World - By Lynne Shallcross
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LAST WORD: Reflecting on Katrina - By Marybeth Lima
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