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Co-op Words of Wisdom

Today’s post is written by Katherine Waidelich. Katherine is majoring in mechanical engineering; she is also the Treasurer of the engineering internship and co-op honorary, Kappa Theta Epsilon.  Katherine has worked at Marathon Petroleum Company and at Grundfos / Peerless Pump Company.  Today she is sharing what she’s learned from co-oping.

Co-oping has been a great experience for me as a student and as a young professional.  It has allowed me to learn more about the ins and outs of what an engineer does on a typical workday.  I’ve worked with two companies while pursuing my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. 

On my first day of the job I did what everyone fears… I overslept and showed up late.  Making the wrong first impression was definitely a learning experience for me.  There is hope though!  If you make a mistake at work (which at some point—you most likely will) just apologize for your error and try not to repeat it.  Also, as a co-op you are going to ask odd questions, but that is part of the learning process.  Try to remember that everyone was the newbie at some point and didn’t know how all the processes worked or why a certain technique was correct.   You will make mistakes and that’s fine. Show the company the kind of engineer you are by how you respond the setbacks.  Learn what went wrong and adjust for future opportunities. One of the best feelings while co-oping is completing a project from start to finish knowing is the best it can be.

Interacting with fellow co-ops is a benefit to obtaining work experience.  At my co-op, there were 22 students from all across the USA.  We gathered for dinners during the week and had special events during the weekends.  For dinner one night we went to the famous Hillbilly Hotdog; another night we would dress up for an Italian dinner.  We even had some adventures, like white water rafting together. These friendships are easy because of shared commonalities—like engineering and working at the same place.  Who knows where everyone you co-op with will be in 10 years?  You might be working right beside them on a major project for your company.  Start building those relationships from the very beginning!

It’s also a good idea to build relationships with those in your department or company. Co-oping is basically a long interview.  You want to see what the company is like, and they want to see what you have to offer the company.  Are you a good match?  Can you work well with other employees?  Do you have a strong work ethic?  My advice for any student going into co-op is to have the attitude that you will do the best work you can—even if you are working on a small project.

Another lesson learned—ask questions.  When you ask question, you will gain knowledge.  This also shows the company you’re willing to find solutions.  Asking questions is also a great way to network and get your foot in the door.  Ask for projects, ask for advice, and ask for help if needed.  Once I asked a question, I did my best to try not to ask that same question again.  

Good luck in your job search.  May you soon have the opportunity to share your own co-op words of wisdom!

"All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind."
-Martin H. Fischer