Here are three benefits of participating in a co-op program like Abbott's.
1. Develop the Most In-Demand Skills
One of the major benefits of a co-op program is the opportunity to practice and grow interpersonal skills. Students interact with executives, upper-level management, and others just starting their careers. For example, mechanical engineering co-ops contribute to the design and development of medical devices, whether as a drawing, 3D model, or even functioning prototypes. The students then present those designs, strengthening their communication and presentation skills. As a global company, that may mean communicating with team members around the world. Co-ops then can be involved in the manufacturing of the devices.
With all these various contributions, students practice managing multiple project deliverables and timelines. Co-ops have access to software and equipment they may never see or use before landing a full-time job.
"When you work with a large corporation like Abbott, you're getting access to different modeling and analysis software tools," says Villavicencio.
As an example, he points out that students may take a finite element analysis course in school, but at Abbott, they can use powerful software programs to apply that education.
In fact, there is a lot of equipment available to students that may not be accessible in an educational environment. These include industrial testing equipment and tooling, 3D printing machines, on-site machine shops, 3D X-rays, scanning electron microscope systems, and even a clinical application lab where they can work with synthetic tissues. This equipment gives students the chance to apply skills they've learned in theory, helping them gain the confidence needed in future careers.
2. Receive Mentorship from Experts in the Field
Each co-op has a mentor who works directly with them and coaches them through their projects. Mentors, whether a co-op's direct supervisor or another Abbott expert, are responsible for providing feedback on the co-op's work and guiding them through presentations.
Though co-ops receive mid-assignment and end-of-assignment performance reviews, feedback is provided throughout the program from mentors and other team members. Engineers train co-ops and give specific project pointers, as well as more general career and engineering advice. Students, in turn, gain expert guidance from leaders in the technical world and a broader perspective on the engineering industry.
Villavicencio has worked directly with more than 25 co-ops and finds the process as rewarding as a mentor as when he was a co-op himself.
"Seeing them on day one and seeing where they are six months later is a rewarding process for the mentor," he said. "They're a contributing engineer by the time they complete their six months."
3. Set Yourself Up for Future Success
Through the Abbott cooperative education program, engineering students can put their skills to use making a difference in people's lives.
Early in the medical devices program, co-ops can observe a real product being used. For example, cardiac rhythm management research and development co-ops may see a pacemaker, defibrillator, or cardiac monitor be implanted, allowing them to see the products they will be contributing to in action. Co-ops hear first-hand from physicians and healthcare professionals about what the product does, why it's needed and the positive impact it will have on an individual's health.
"Co-ops ultimately learn how to solve problems," says Villavicencio. "And how to think through some of the more technical applications of our world with real results."
This is why hiring managers look for co-op experience in job candidates: Co-ops have already proven they can succeed in an entry-level position for six months. This helps to build their confidence and the confidence of the company where they’re applying for a job.
Beyond the real-world exposure co-ops receive through the program, they also build a network of industry experts and career contacts. As co-ops, students collaborate with other co-ops from schools across the country. Engineers have many industries and opportunities to choose a career path.
"Think of the co-op as a six-month interview," Villavicencio concludes, one where you're interviewing the company and industry just as much as the company is interviewing you. "It prepares you for the next step in your career."