Institute for Co-operative Education orientation welcomes record number of students
This is a banner year for Concordia University’s Institute for Co-operative Education (Co-op) program. More than 700 new students are being enrolled in Co-op, and those who attended an orientation session on September 18, learned about the importance of exploiting their capabilities, developing their confidence and following their dreams.
Co-op boasts a total of some 1,700 students across 26 undergraduate and four graduate disciplines. All faculties — John Molson School of Business, Engineering and Computer Science, Arts and Science, and Fine Arts — participate in the program. Students graduate with the Co-op designation and 12 to 16 months of relevant work experience.
“We believe we will provide you with an opportunity to obtain real-life work experiences,” Co-op director Gerry Hughes told the almost-capacity crowd gathered in the 675-seat Alumni Auditorium in the Henry F. Hall Building. “By the time you graduate, you will have at least a full year of actual work experience under your belt, which will help position you for future opportunities as far as your career is concerned.”
Students accepted into the Co-op program complete three academic semesters before their first work term. Afterwards, they alternate their semesters between full-time study and work terms.
Hughes said the program provides students with opportunities to learn new technical and professional skills in the workforce while earning a salary — often enough to graduate debt-free — during their academic experience. Workshops on writing cover letters and resumés, interview techniques and job-search strategies help students develop their confidence and enhance their competitive advantage.
“We are going to ensure you are ready and confident in order to position yourself to successfully obtain work term opportunitie(s) in the marketplace,” Hughes said. “It is highly competitive out there. We are going to help you and guide you, and prepare you to have success.”
The Co-op experience gives students the chance to “test-drive” their possible career direction to see what they like best, Hughes said, and this is something the new students, who will do their first work term next summer, heard about first-hand during an upbeat and lively panel session featuring six current Co-op students.
Student panel session
Biochemistry student Jordan Plenzich told the audience that he always saw himself working in a lab after graduation. But after work terms at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Lallemand and Agilent Technologies, “I found out that sales is something I really enjoy, and now my career goal has changed completely.”
It is not uncommon for Co-op students to receive job offers from their employers. Such is the case for Jessica Di Lazzaro, an accountancy student who has completed work terms at Pratt & Whitney Canada, SNC Lavalin, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She will graduate this semester and begin working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in January.
“A degree is not enough anymore,” Di Lazzaro stressed. “When companies hire, they expect experience to come with it. Co-op gives you an edge over those who are graduating without any experience.”
Megan Brown, a computer science student whose work terms have included stints at the Canadian Space Agency, and at Microsoft Corporation (USA) in Seattle, agreed with that assessment. “In computer science, a lot of the time, the degree is almost secondary to experience,” she said. “Employers are interested in the kind of technology you have worked with and the projects you have done. It’s all about your experience.”
Brown is returning to Microsoft for another work term next summer. “If that goes well, hopefully there will be a full-time job waiting for me, and I will relocate to Seattle,” she said, while urging the new students not to be afraid “to go for what you really want.”
The orientation session and panel discussion resonated with the new students. Computer science undergraduate Cathryn Griffiths said hearing first-hand from Brown about how she has succeeded in what many still consider a non-traditional industry for women “gives me more confidence to go into that industry.”
Oliver Russell, who’s studying actuarial mathematics at Concordia, said the orientation helped convince him to follow through with the Co-op program. “I know what to expect and I can see the benefits that will help me get a leg up when I go out to get a job,” he said.
Finance student Carl Ouimet said that hearing the students talk about Co-op showed him how the program will help get his career off to a strong start by allowing him to stand out from other applicants. “You have a competitive advantage having Co-op under your belt.”
For more on the Co-op journey at Concordia University, watch the video: