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UC’s international co-op program receives global acclaim

Awarded every two years to a single global recipient, the 2019 MacLaren Award recently went to UC’s Gayle Elliott

The University of Cincinnati is one of the few universities in the United States to offer students a structured pathway to international co-op work experience related to their majors.

The pioneering program, which includes intensive language and cultural preparation for students, began at UC nearly 30 years ago under the leadership of Professor Gayle Elliott, who was recently recognized for the program’s successful innovations with the biennial Mr. Donald MacLaren, Jr., Academic Award for Professional Achievement in Cooperative and Work-Integrated Achievement.

Portrait of Gayle Elliott

Gayle Elliott

Elliott is only the third U.S. educator to ever receive the prestigious MacLaren Award from the World Association for Cooperative Education.

“UC’s International co-op was one of the very first of its kind, and it’s still a rarity in higher education, enabling students to take intensive German, Japanese, French or Spanish language and cultural training followed by an eight-month co-op where they are able to participate in overseas work directly related to their majors," says Gigi Escoe, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean for career education. "It provides outstanding opportunities for motivated students, and we join in the congratulations for Professor Elliott’s work to develop this and other international options for students.”

The International Co-op Program contributes to the university’s leading reputation for experience-based education. Earlier this month, the U.S. News and World Report undergraduate rankings guide placed UC at No. 3 among all U.S. universities — and No. 1 among public institutions — for co-ops and internships. As the global founder of cooperative education, UC houses the world’s third-largest co-op program where each year, students earned a collective $75 million annually working for about 1,300 international employers.

Though such accolades and honors are welcome, Elliott says that is the success of UC’s students and alumni in the international arena that serve as the most-satisfying reward. “I’m still in contact with students who were among the first to take advantage of the International Co-op Program. Some continued to live and worked abroad after graduating from UC, thanks to their ICP experience. They are now in Germany, Japan, Canada and other locales. It’s an alumni network on which we build to continue to create opportunities, and helping to create such a legacy has been the best thing I could ever ask for,” she states.

A college-aged man in a grey T-shirt and sunglasses poses with girls wearing dark sweaters and white collared shirts.

Eric Knopp, right, poses for a photo with some local students during his international co-op experience in Japan. Photo/provided

Eric Knopp, who graduated from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science in the late 1990s, recalled his international co-op as one of the first from UC to work at Kawasaki Steel in Chiba, Japan. He was the first international student working at the site to ever delivered his introductory speech in Japanese. “I cannot tell you how much respect that won for me," Knopp recalls. "Everyone told me that my Japanese was the best of any foreign student they’d ever had. That says a lot for the ICP because Kawasaki had been employing foreign students for a least three or four years [by that time] and also hired students from Canada and France.”

In addition to her role with the ICP, Elliott also created two two-week study-tour courses — the first to Japan and later to China. The study-tour courses offer students the opportunity to experience another culture through a low-risk, faculty-led program. The courses combine cultural experiences with company visits, where students learn about the professional environments in Japan or China.

Three UC students standing on a path made of wooden boards near a rocky hillside. Two of the students are standing and creating the letters "U" and "C" with their arms, while the third kneels in front of them, holding open her sweatshirt to reveal a UC logo on her black T-shirt

Three UC engineering students stop for a photo while traveling in Ireland during their respective international co-op opportunities in Germany. Photo/provided

She also assisted the College of Engineering and Applied Science when the college created a partnership with China’s Chongqing University (CQU) leading to the Joint Co-op Institute (JCI) and a dual-degree program.

In 1997, she became one of the founding members who plan and organize an annual Colloquium on International Engineering Education. The Colloquium, created through the University of Rhode Island, addressed the lack of international focus in engineering curriculum. Along with colleague Chris Cooper, Elliott is co-hosting the Colloquium at UC in 2019. The multiday event brings university presidents, deans, department heads and students together to explore how theycan create international co-op and internship programs at their respective institutions.

[Elliott] makes it all work thanks to her many global connections, the high quality of the program, and because she is so dedicated to finding the best opportunities for students.

Anita Todd Retired associate professor and associate director, Career Education

Elliott has lent her expertise to programs and projects funded by the National Science Foundation to encourage international education, as well as many other professional educational organizations and bodies associated with global experience-based learning.

Anita Todd, retired Career Education associate professor and associate director, nominated Elliott for the MacLaren Award.

A woman standing in front of a mansion

In 1997, Sarah Gray, a civil engineering student at the time, became the first UC co-op student to be placed with a firm in the former East Germany. Photo/provided

“The goal of the ICP at the University of Cincinnati is 100-percent placement of all participating students in career-related jobs in their program country," says Todd. "This means that Professor Elliott and the students are working to develop new and different jobs to support any fluctuations in numbers and majors across the ICP in any given year. She makes it all work thanks to her many global connections, the high quality of the program, and because she is so dedicated to finding the best opportunities for students.”

International Co-op at UC engages seamlessly with the university’s Next Lives Here strategic direction focused on developing tomorrow’s co-ops, internships and related opportunities. These will provide forward-looking, competitive experiences to the next generation of students in the digital knowledge economy and expand work-integrated experiences to greater numbers of students.

Featured image: A market in front of Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Photo/Benjamin Wong /Unsplash

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Support the Gayle Elliott Scholarship Fund for International Co-op.