Co-op & Cal

Many know that the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science established the first

cooperative education (co-op) program

more than 110 years ago. What many may not know is the story behind one of the early pioneers of co-op, Henry Calvert “Cal” Messinger.

The co-op program was founded by the UC engineering dean at the time, Herman Schneider. Prior to pitching his plans of co-op to the UC Board of Trustees, Dean Schneider proposed his idea to Lehigh University in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Also based in Eastern Pennsylvania was Dean Schneider’s close relative, the young Cal Messinger, who would soon play an integral role in the development of UC’s modern day co-op program.

Today, the program allows students to gain real-world experience by alternating semesters in the classroom with semesters working in jobs related to their fields of study. Co-op allows students to practice what they learn at UC – and get paid to do it.

The first installation of the co-op program was quite different. When first initiated in 1906, a pair of students alternated between one week of class and one week of work at the same company, thus providing a “full-time” employee for the company. Due to the rapid toggling between work and school, the model made it difficult for students both at work and school.

Enter Cal Messinger.

Messinger moved to Cincinnati from Pennsylvania to attend UC from 1911 to 1916 and was a member of the fifth class to graduate from the new co-op program. As a mechanical engineering major, he held work positions with the Cincinnati Tool Company, Corcoran Lamp Company of Cincinnati and Brownell Engine & Boiler Works in Dayton.

Additionally, Messinger worked for one year at the Dayton Electric Company (DELCO), a Division of the General Motors in Dayton, Ohio.  While at DELCO, Messinger’s number was the first drawn for the draft in World War I. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917.

Drawing on his mechanical engineering knowledge and skills gained during his years at UC, Messinger was tasked with and successfully developed the ability for allied forces to fire rounds through the front spinning propellers of military aircraft. He also maintained and repaired some of the first reconnaissance airplanes used by the military to observe enemy forces.

After returning home from the war in 1919, Messinger was recruited by George Burns, UC’s first co-op coordinator (appointed by Dean Schneider), to further develop the co-op program. Hired as a co-op coordinator, Messinger eventually was assigned to work exclusively with students in mechanical engineering and in the new field of aeronautical engineering.

Initially, the responsibility of co-op coordinators was to work with companies simply to find co-op positions for students. However, Messinger wanted to go one step further. He wanted to find the best quality work experiences that exposed students to real-world engineering problems.

He traveled across the country, meeting with numerous companies to establish well-structured training opportunities for co-op students, ensuring that they experienced a variety of departments and responsibilities while working for a company.

For his dedication and exemplary work in the field, Messinger quickly rose through the UC ranks, from coordinator to assistant professor of coordination to associate professor of coordination. A new position was created in 1946 and he was appointed as the first-ever director of the university's Department of Coordination and Placement, overseeing all of the co-op programs in engineering, business and architecture & design.

Messinger made several major contributions to the co-op program throughout his UC tenure. During the Great Depression, UC experienced a drop in enrollment and the number of engineering students available for co-op placements, and Messinger developed a pivotal way to boost program interest. He suggested that instead of waiting to recruit co-op students at the university level, companies should visit and recruit local high school students. Many companies adopted this method. They would interview high school students and select the best candidates, offer to help pay for the student’s UC education, and offer them co-op positions that would help tailor the student for a specific job once they graduated. Companies continued to use this process to find and tailor future employees well after the Great Depression had ended and, as a result, UC experienced an overall increase in enrollment during those difficult years.

Later in his UC career, Messinger spent time working with universities across the nation to help them establish co-op programs of their own. Today, many universities appreciate the value of cooperative education.

Messinger also encouraged UC faculty to visit and collaborate with companies, in exchange for the companies' accepting more co-op students. This exchange kept faculty apprised of the innovative work being done in industry and also opened more opportunities for students.

Towards the end of his career, Messinger helped to establish the Cooperative Education Division of American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) to foster the growth and development of the co-op program across the nation and abroad. He was recognized by his peers in industry and academia as a true pioneer in cooperative education.

The name Messinger may sound familiar to Cincinnati natives. Cal had two sons who participated in the engineering co-op program at UC: Robert “Bob” Messinger and Richard “Dick” Messinger.

Dick Messinger is retired from his position as the Vice President of Research and Development for Cincinnati Milacron, Inc. Because of his innovative technological advances, including the development of the first computer-controlled robotic arms and plastic molding machines, he was nominated to join the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. The Messinger family legacy of engineers continues to this day, as Dick Messinger's granddaughter Blakely Linz plans to transfer into the computer science program this fall.