Robert Duncan, a senior plastics engineering major, is convinced the co-op position he held at Sterilite Corp. in 2010 paved the way for his current co-op job at DePuy Mitek, a division of Johnson & Johnson. And, he hopes this position will open up further career opportunities. The two positions have exposed him to a variety of professional roles, from manufacturing to research and development to regulatory responsibilities.
“The experience is so important,” said Duncan. “And the opportunities have been pretty awesome.”
In recognition of his accomplishments in the co-op program, Duncan was one of two students recently honored with the Outstanding Co-op Achievement Award by the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education and the Plastics Engineering Department.
Also recognized was senior Gregory Pigeon, who has worked at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center since 2010.
The awards were handed out at the third annual Co-op Connection recruiting and networking event on Feb. 9 at Cumnock Hall. Some 60 engineering students attended to meet with potential employers in the hopes of lining up co-op jobs. The event drew representatives of more than three dozen companies, some from as far away as Tennessee.
Plastics Engineering Department Chairman Prof. Robert Malloy, who presented the awards, said Pigeon has become his go-to student when he needs someone to represent the department or speak to visiting dignitaries. Pigeon, who has continued working part-time at his co-op job while back at school, said his coursework and professional experience have provided an abundance of opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom.
“I took full advantage of all the programs,” he said. Pigeon, who grew up in West Bridgewater, will pursue a master’s degree in the fall and is planning on a career in research.
Duncan was the first UMass Lowell student to get a co-op job at DePuy Mitek and because of his outstanding work, the company has expressed interest in hiring others. “Robert has opened the door for other UMass Lowell students to work there,” Malloy said. Launched in the Plastics Engineering Department two years ago, the co-op program has expanded to all engineering disciplines, the College of Sciences and the Manning School of Business.
Students must complete a professional development seminar, which covers workplace behavior, ethics and job search skills before they can begin a co-op placement. So far, 130 students have completed the seminars.
In addition to the student award winners, Lynette Colby, a senior project engineer at Illinois Tool Works in Glenview, Ill., was honored as Outstanding Co-op Employer. Colby leads recruitment of engineering co-op students for the $17.8 billion diversified manufacturer and UMass Lowell is the first institution outside the Chicago area from which the company has recruited.
Colby made six trips to campus to meet with faculty, interview students and tour facilities. As a co-op supervisor, she provided continuous feedback and mentoring to the UMass Lowell students that she hired, said Diane Hewitt, associate director of the Career Services and Cooperative Education Center.
Coperion, a capital equipment manufacturer with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, has set its sights on UMass Lowell as a source for co-op students for its operations in Ramsey, N.J. Paul Andersen, Coperion’s senior manager for process technology and new development, attended the Co-op Connection event with a goal of recruiting plastics engineering students for six-month positions.
“For plastics engineers, UMass Lowell is an obvious choice,” Andersen said. “No other school in the country has a similar program.”
Duncan, who is scheduled to graduate in December, is confident that he has built a solid foundation for his engineering career. He encourages students entering the engineering program to get involved with the co-op program as early as possible.
“My advice is to do as many co-ops as you can,” said Duncan, a Portland, Ore., native. “UMass Lowell has great industry connections.”