Jan. 31, 2000
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly


Cincinnati -- Two recent surveys at the University of Cincinnati show the value of cooperative education in preparing students for professional responsibilities.

Cheryl Cates, associate professor of professional practice, surveyed engineering students in recent years about the source (classroom, lab or co-op) of various skills and abilities gained while in school. The surveys were completed in an attempt to gauge co-op's impact across various engineering disciplines and at varying periods during the academic cycle. The surveys measured student skills and abilities based on the criteria deemed vital by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Programs.

"For most schools, co-op is an add-on feature. It's not an integral part of the curriculum as is the case with UC. With...separate studies, we've obtained remarkably similar results about the value of co-op in broadening student development. More schools need to work harder to integrate co-op into the curriculum. The pay-off for students is there," said Cates who conducted the two UC studies in 1998 and 1999.

Cates has already presented the UC survey results at the 1999 Ohio Cooperative Education Association annual meeting and the 1999 Midwest Cooperative Education Association annual meeting. She will also present, along with cooperative education faculty from Northeastern University who similarly surveyed their engineering students, at the June 2000 conference of the American Society of Engineering Education Association in St. Louis.

In all the surveys, students reported co-op to be a dramatically effective tool in preparing them to function on multi-disciplinary teams, communicate effectively as well as providing knowledge of ethical and professional responsibilities. They also rated co-op highly in terms of understanding the impact of their chosen profession in terms of broader societal needs, recognizing the need to engage in lifelong learning and providing exposure to the modern engineering tools necessary for professional success.

For instance, in the 1998 survey of 114 UC industrial engineering and materials engineering students, 59 percent of industrial engineering students credited co-op for giving them the ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams while 30 percent of the students credited the classroom for providing this ability. Similarly, 67 percent of the materials engineering students credited co-op with providing them an understanding of ethical and professional responsibilities while 19 percent credited the classroom for this knowledge.

"It often depends on the students' academic level as to whether they value co-op or the classroom more. This first survey included students at all levels. The first-year students didn't see the value of co-op as much. Third-year students credited co-op for teaching them more than the classroom while the seniors in their fifth-year were much more balanced in their views, probably because they were beyond foundation studies and taking their discipline-specific courses," explained Cates.

The second UC survey covered the universities' 1999 graduating class from the College of Engineering, with 309 of the seniors responding. This survey allowed Cates to gauge co-op's effectiveness by discipline. Materials science and engineering, and computer engineering out of the 11 disciplines offered at UC were the most likely to give high marks to co-op. For instance, 60 percent of computer engineering seniors said co-op best provided them with the ability to design a system, component or process to meet desired needs while 36 percent gained this ability from the classroom. And 63 percent of materials science and engineering seniors gained the ability to identify and solve engineering problems from their co-op experience while 33 percent better learned it in the classroom.

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