PROFILE: This Student Can Construct a Building or a Marketing Plan

He’s a mechanical engineer now doing brand management.  UC senior Dan Jackson, 21,  knows it sounds a little crazy.  All he can say is that he’s following his interests thanks to the opportunities that have opened up to him via UC’s cooperative education program.

Cooperative education is the practice wherein students alternate academic quarters spent in the classroom with paid, professional working quarters that relate to their majors.  The practice had its worldwide founding at UC in 1906.

In fact, UC’s prestigious co-op program was one of the reasons Dan, a 1999 graduate of Lebanon High School, opted to attend the university, and he’s made the most of the opportunity.  He was recently named Ohio’s Co-op Student of the Year by the state’s cooperative education association on the strength of his co-op accomplishments.  Those include working as a construction/maintenance project manager at The Procter and Gamble Company responsible for plans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When Dan first became eligible to co-op in his sophomore year, he knew he wanted to co-op with Cincinnati’s own P&G.  Recalls Dan, “When I was in high school and trying to decide what to study, a neighbor of mine who was a chemical engineer, took me to work with her one day at one of P&G’s research centers.  I just loved the whole day.  The people she worked with were more than colleagues.  I could tell they were friends.  I knew I wanted that kind of atmosphere.  And I wanted to study chemical engineering.”

Well, Dan later changed his mind about a major but never changed his mind about where he wanted to work.  When he was eligible to begin co-opping into his second year of college, he asked to interview with P&G through UC’s Professional Practice office.  “I was a little nervous about not getting it.  I had a co-op offer from Dow Corning, but I didn’t yet have one from P&G….Then, I did get that first co-op at P&G, and I’ve since completed five more work quarters at P&G,” says Dan, who will continue co-opping with the company through the summer.

For those first five co-ops, Dan worked for the company’s Global Business Services facilities management department responsible for maintaining and upgrading P&G’s many office, research and manufacturing sites.  At first, Dan was entrusted with small projects – ones that were more focused on simple engineering technology such as evaluating, budgeting and hiring contractors for the repairs of retaining walls or parking lots or even a storage building to house the company’s winter salt supply, according to his one-time supervisor Cash Smith, P&G North American real estate manager.  Then, Dan’s responsibilities were increased to larger and more complex projects, ones requiring architectural and facilities design skills, managerial capabilities and communications skills.

Said Smith, “We’ve had a lot of co-op students from all over the country, and Dan stood out as an achiever.  As a manger, I could really trust him to handle meetings with contractors or other staff.  I didn’t have to go to those meetings to make sure everything was moving forward and properly explained.  I knew he could handle it.”

Among the projects Dan was given was inventorying all of P&G’s special maintenance needs throughout the company’s six local facilities.  Says Dan, “I had to evaluate and rank all the needs – like retaining walls, lot repairs, building needs.  I had to make the decisions as to what should be repaired and in what order out of a $700,000 fund.”

He also oversaw the $360,000 modernization of all 13 elevators at one research facility.  That meant leading pre-bid meetings with vendors and contractors, developing the bid packet for contractors, sorting through and awarding bids, scheduling all the work and communicating with the site’s employees about when and where elevators would be closed off and where others would remain online.  Quips Dan, “If you ever want to feel powerful…or very unpopular, control the elevators.”  He adds, “Actually, I really worked to ensure that all the employees could make their way around the center with the least disruption possible, especially for one employee who was wheelchair bound.”

And he handled the “heavy-duty” projects as well.  One involved installing a 12-ton air handler system atop the roof of a local research facility.  (An air handler circulates air through a building.)  The project involved placing large structural steel-strut supports down through the building to its foundation, struts that were necessary to support the new air handler.  “I was doing this project at the same time I was doing several others.  You’re a real member of the team, and everyone has a full plate so it was important to manage each project efficiently.  I had to work with the architectural/engineering firm on the contract drawings, lead pre-bid meetings, order all the parts and coordinate that with scheduling all the work as well as overseeing the structural steel design and its installation, all while managing ten different contractors.  I always had to be looking at the big picture,” Dan recalls.

During his spring quarter 2003 co-op, Dan tackled completely new challenges:  Brand management for Crest toothpaste.  “Now, I’m helping to market Crest to professionals like dentists and hygienists, and I’m helping with marketing related to public causes.  In the summer, I’ll be involved with brand management for Cheer detergent,” he says.

It was a pretty big leap from facilities management to marketing but one that Dan lobbied hard for:  “Actually, I was in training for my co-ops in facilities management when I met some brand managers, and I asked them what they did.  I was intrigued with their role.  And so, eventually, I sought out this new co-op opportunity.  But I wasn’t sure I’d get it.  I was in competition with undergraduate and MBA students who were seeking the same job.  But I applied and went through two rounds of interviews to co-op in product brand management.  I’m sure my familiarity with the company helped, along with the strong analytical…and problem-solving skills that I’ve developed in engineering helped me obtain the position.”

Throughout the train of these diverse co-op experiences, Dan says one lesson has remained the same.  He says that he’s learned that he can learn.  That’s something that gives him confidence to take on new challenges and explore news skills and interests, like brand management…as well as whatever comes his way after he finishes his 2003-2004 senior year at UC.

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