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Spring 2005 - Web Story 3

Destination Purdue > Spring 2005 - Web Story 3

Program combines study with work experience

By Kim Hall

Do you ever fear your work at the local fast food restaurant during high school just isn't going to cover the $12,000 a year it takes to attend college? Wouldn't it be ideal if you could find a job in the field of your choice, attend school and get paid to do it? Through Purdue University Cooperative Education, you can do just that.

Co-Op students work at a job full-time one semester, and attend school full time the next. With more than 500 companies participating, Purdue Agriculture Co-op students can choose from opportunities with companies like General Mills, John Deere, DuPont and Case IH. Students learn about future careers and earn money at the same time.

Robert Stwalley III, director of Cooperative Education, said one of the greatest benefits of the program is the moment students realize the opportunities it opens for them. "Not only do students gain experience with a chosen field of study, this program helps [them] gain more interest in their education, because they put to work what they are learning in the classroom, or learning in the classroom things they've already done through Co-Op," Stwalley said.

Curt Epler, a junior agricultural and biological engineering major from Dale, Ind., has been working for John Deere Ottumwa Works, in Ottumwa, Iowa, for three terms. "I learned more about the [Co-Op] program during freshman engineering and I decided that a good Co-Op was my key to a good future," said Elpers. He said the experience the Co-Op has given him early in his professional development is the program's strongest feature.

"With every term of my Co-Op in a different area of the factory (testing, product development and production), I have experienced the different efforts put into developing and manufacturing agricultural equipment," Elpers said.

Stwalley said each Co-op student must meet three main requirements:

  1. The Co-Op job must be applicable to the students' disciplines or fields of study
  2. Students must be mentored by someone already in the field
  3. Companies must agree to an element of development in responsibility for the student involved

"If you are interested in a particular career or if you are interested in working for a particular company after graduation, look into the Co-Op program," Elpers said. "You will have the opportunity to determine if you were really passionate about the career or the company while getting paid to learn."