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UC Forges 100-Year Links With Three Co-op Employers, 1906-2006

When the previous century was young – in 1906 to be exact – an equally youthful educator at UC built a tenuous bridge between education’s ivory tower and industry’s smokestack. He sent 27 untested engineering students into turn-of-the-century mines and mills to see what lessons they’d learn from the paid positions he’d arranged for them.

Date: 11/7/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover, Lisa Ventre, submitted by J. Binns

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In 1906, UC began what’s known around the world – in 43 countries at last count – as “Cooperative Education,” a timeless practice of transforming youth to experience. 

Dictionary definition
Co-op was so closely associated with its founding school and city that the 1934 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defined co-op as the Cincinnati Plan.

Today, in 2006, hundreds of thousands of students studying everything from accounting to urban affairs continue the ever-expanding educational experiment – which was once defined in Webster’s unabridged dictionary as “The Cincinnati Plan.”  Using the classroom as their home base, students around the globe alternate days, quarters or semesters spent in school with paid, professional experience related directly to their majors, just like those first UC students.

Today, UC partners with 1,500 local, regional, national and international firms in placing its co-op students. The foundation of all of these partnerships dates back to 1906 and the original 12 employers who first hired co-op students to help handle the work load. And three of these original 12 partners are still UC co-op employers today: Makino, Milacron and Siemens.

George Binns
UC student George Binns helped pioneer co-op at Milacron, where he began work as a co-op student on Sept. 24, 1906.

Though, truth be told, Milacron was initially a reluctant co-op employer. Just like many other area firms in the early 1900s, the then-Cincinnati Milling Machine initially refused to participate in co-op, figuring that students had little to offer. So it was that UC’s founder of co-op, Herman Schneider, acted strategically to worm two engineering students into the local plant with the help of an old friend who worked there. 

Later, Schneider met the president of Cincinnati Milling Machine, Frederick A. Geier, on the train one day. Schneider asked how his co-ops were working out, and Geier replied that there were no co-ops at Cincinnati Milling Machine. Schneider then confessed that, indeed, the firm did have co-op students.

Jack Binns, Sr., son of one of those first Cincinnati Milling Machine co-ops, recalled, “ F.A. was pretty angry about the wool being pulled over his eyes, and Herman [Schneider] had to promise that when F.A. got back and checked it out, if the co-ops weren’t doing well, Herman would repay all that they’d been given in terms of salary. If they were doing well, F.A. had to accept more co-ops.”

Another former co-op student later recounted, “When the president got back to the plant, he found that these men were in fact on the roll of his employees. He sent for the foreman and asked him about the co-ops. ‘Best men I’ve got,’ said the foreman. The president, being a good sport, enjoyed the joke on himself and admitted that this was probably the only way in which he would have started employing co-ops.”

Binns remembered it the same way: “When F.A. got back, he called Herman [Schneider] up and said, ‘Send me two more co-ops.’”

Milacron quickly became a co-op supporter. About 20 years later, this same company – today Milacron, Inc. – asked for the entire freshman class in mechanical engineering as co-op students, and company president Frederick A. Geier publicly acknowledged how wrong he’d been, saying that if the co-op grads were taken from him, his plant would be forced to shut down.

Then, as now, the co-op students proved their value. The first Milacron co-op back in 1906 – George Binns – was hired for permanent employment when he graduated UC, and the same is still often true at Milacron today. For instance, Jill Peddenpohl, accounting analyst with the firm, was hired full time in May 1992 after four co-op terms with the firm.

She laughed, “I was hired despite the fact that I’d embarrassed myself one day when meeting the company president. It was a Saturday, and we were very busy. And since it was a Saturday, I didn’t clean up at all to come to work. I wore an old scruffy sweatshirt. I was absolutely scruffy. Of course, that would be the day they sent me to take something to the company president!”
Peddenpohl added that co-op students are a valuable resource when the company is ready to hire. She stated, “And when we do hire a co-op, they usually exhibit longevity. They’ve had the chance to get to know the company, the environment and the people.”

In fact, she so values the co-ops’ contributions that Peddenpohl volunteered to serve as the company’s coordinator of accounting and finance students nearly 10 years ago. “Having come through a co-op program, I knew how things looked from their side of the fence. I felt I could relate to their needs and help them to contribute as much as possible.”

Local, regional, national and international firms count on cooperative education students not only from UC but from the country’s 500 co-op colleges and universities.

Bill Finley, left, and Jeff Kenney
Bill Finley who began at Siemens as a UC co-op in 1974, left, with Siemens' new hire, 2006 UC co-op graduate Jeff Kenney.

For instance, Siemens' manager of engineering, Bill Finley, began as a UC co-op student at the firm in 1974 and has counted on the co-op program ever since to help with employee recruitment. “I like to hire via co-op,” he said. “The graduates are stronger hires. They’ve excelled both in the classroom and on the job. In my 32 years here, I’ve never been disappointed in a UC co-op.”

Looking back to his own co-op days, Finley is fairly certain his supervisors at the Allis-Chalmers plant felt the same way about him. For one, they’d also been co-op students at one time. Said Finley, “I remember, as a student, really appreciating being able to apply what I was learning in college to the real world. Of course, sometimes, there were challenges.”

Finley, in particular, recalled one night when he and another worker were testing a 40-horsepower DC motor that, unfortunately, threw a coupling. With the loss of the coupling, the motor began to over speed, shooting out commutator copper bars at high speed in all directions. “We needed to get to the control panel to shut the motor down, but we had to crawl on our hands and knees to do it. Otherwise, we’d get smacked down by a flying motor part,” he recollected, adding, “As the co-op student, I think it was my job to take the blame.”

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