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UC Student Excels in Experiential Learning: Wins Rolls-Royce Award for Workplace Leadership 

UC student Forrest Parsons steered himself to a winning record while working a recent cooperative education quarter with Rolls-Royce. He was selected as the outstanding student leader among the hundreds of co-ops and interns working at the corporation.

Date: 11/17/2008
By: Keith Rutowski
Photos By: Dottie Stover

After seven weeks on the job as a co-op student with Rolls-Royce Corporation, University of Cincinnati operations management senior Forrest Parsons was selected as the firm’s most outstanding student leader.

Parsons, 22, of Springfield, Ohio, won the award when he proved himself able to take on all manner of challenges as a departmental supervisor.

Forrest Parsons

After his first three weeks on the job, the supervisor of the Indianapolis unit where Parsons was working went on vacation. That meant the UC co-op student had to deal with unforeseen problems on the fly and make split-second decisions that had direct consequences on the plant’s operations. Remembers Parsons, “I learned more in the two weeks she was gone than in three co-op quarters combined.”

Co-op, or cooperative education, is the practice where students alternate quarters or semesters in school with quarters or semesters of paid, professional work related directly to their majors. UC is the global founder of co-op, having invented the practice of co-op in 1906. And today, UC’s co-op program is ranked in the nation’s Top Ten by U.S. News & World Report.

Parsons states that his recent co-op with Rolls-Royce was his greatest learning experience so far. Previously, he’d worked at the company’s fuel-cell systems department in Lebanon, Ohio, in 2007. Then, this past June, he was offered a co-op at the company’s 2.6 million square feet Indianapolis facility, which is dedicated to civil and defense aerospace, marine and energy ventures. That plant is the largest Rolls-Royce manufacturing facility in North America, employing more than 4,000 people. Since operations managers preside over the entire plant, Parsons knew that, from the start, he would be directing a significant portion of the workforce himself.

Parsons was thrown head first into the real world when the company made him a departmental supervisor within the blades and vanes unit. Blades are small metal pieces near the front of the engine that compress and spin air when it enters the engine. Vanes are “stationary like” blades near the back of the engine that direct air outward after combustion. 

Along with a full-time supervisor, Parsons directed a team of 30 hourly union workers. He was jointly responsible for overseeing the assembly of spare parts for T56 engines—which power Lockheed Martin C-130A-H Hercules aircrafts.

Forrest Parsons


“We’re not talking one or two parts,” Parsons says.  “We’re talking hundreds and thousands.”

While that number in and of itself may be difficult to imagine, it was dealing with the constant swirl of the parts in transit that proved to be the real challenge. On the floor, parts are assembled and sent out, where they are then coated, welded, and x-rayed, before being sent back again. At any one time, there may be up to 15 different parts going through 40 different processes. 

Despite the complexity, Parsons effectively managed to run 1,500 to 2,000 parts per month while he was on co-op. Parsons says he stays focused with his recipe for success: “I go to work every day and do what I think needs to be done.”

As stated, his efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Parsons beat out nearly 300 other Rolls-Royce co-op/intern students to win the international company’s student leadership award. In addition to the prestige, Parsons was awarded a bonus check, Indianapolis Colts suite tickets and, in his eyes, a full-time job offer.

Rolls-Royce has since offered Parsons a position in their elite leadership development program. The position is highly coveted amongst aspiring employees. With 130 global positions in the program, only one other person was offered the job in the operations department this year.  As a participant in the leadership development program, Parsons will have three six-month rotations in different parts of the country as well as in England.  Following the assignments, Rolls-Royce has promised that they will place Parsons in a “significant” leadership role within three years.

Parsons concluded, “I think I’ve put my foot in the door and I’m on my way to where I want to go.”