Angela Hu, a UMass Lowell senior majoring in plastics engineering, didn’t know what to expect when she took a co-op job with TESco Associates last summer. For Hu, who was participating in the University’s pilot co-op program, it was her first engineering job, an opportunity to apply all she’d learned in the classroom to real-world projects.
“I just knew I had to work hard and the hard work would pay off,” she says.
After working full-time last summer and part-time once classes resumed in the fall at TESco, a Tyngsboro-based provider of research, development and manufacturing services to medical device makers, Hu’s hard work was recently recognized by the Plastics Engineering Department and the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education.
Earlier this month, Hu and Liam Driscoll, a fellow plastics engineering major, were named Outstanding Co-op Students for 2010. In addition, Freudenberg NOK’s Elastomeric Lead Center in Manchester, N.H., was honored as Outstanding Employer Partner of the Year for its commitment to the newly launched co-op program.
“It has been a tremendous gift to see our students discover their professional interests, to gain meaningful professional opportunities and to bring back to the University their new knowledge, sense of competence and confidence,” says Diane Hewitt, associate director of Cooperative Education for Engineering and Technology.
Pilot Program Pushes Professional Development
While internships and co-op placements have long been available to students, the University moved to formalize the co-op program in 2009. Under the pilot program, a professional development seminar was introduced to help prepare students for the job market, honing their interview skills and teaching them to use social networking platforms liked LinkedIn for job searching.
While the students are working, there are frequent communications between the co-op program staff and the employers, including site visits. Afterward, there is a post co-op assessment class in which students reflect on what they learned from the experience.
Hewitt says the co-op program aims to prepare students for a job market that increasingly looks for candidates ready to step into professional roles. "Employers want people who can hit the ground running. The level of skills they expect is much higher,” she says. In all, 26 plastics engineering students participated in the pilot program and the initiative is being expanded to include management, sciences and other engineering disciplines next year.
"Books Can Only Take You So Far"
While at TESco, Hu was involved in a variety of projects; doing research on and testing materials used in medical devices, including developing a proprietary testing method for the company’s cardiovascular stent program. The job exposed Hu to the materials and manufacturing processes unique to the medical device industry, an area in which she is strongly interested. “The co-op experience is so valuable to your overall education,” she says. “Books can only take you so far.”
Driscoll spent last summer at Newell Rubbermaid in Huntersville, N.C., working on the design of home and food storage products. The hands-on experience provided an opportunity for him to sharpen his engineering skills while learning more about the culture and expectations of the workplace.
“It was incredible. I’d recommend it to anyone,” he says of the experience. While there, Driscoll met several alumni of UMass Lowell’s plastics engineering program who are Newell Rubbermaid employees. “They were fantastic. They really provided a guiding hand,” he says.
Freudenberg NOK, a global manufacturer of products for such markets as automotive, aerospace and construction, has a long record of working with the plastics engineering department and was an early supporter of the co-op program, Hewitt says. Last year, the company hired one research and development engineering co-op student and four other plastics engineering students to work as full-time mold operators at the Elastomeric Lead Center.
With Commencement fast approaching, both Hu and Driscoll already know what they’ll be doing next. Driscoll has accepted a job at Newell Rubbermaid, so he’ll be heading back to North Carolina after graduation. Hu will be continuing on at UMass Lowell to get her master’s degree in plastics engineering and expects to continue working at TESco while she’s in school.