The College of Engineering and the Office of Professional Practice (OPP) have launched a new co-op model that not only provides an immersive industry experience but also allows students to graduate on time.
Learning While Working (LWW) provides an opportunity for students to work continuously for one year “to gain a greater depth of experience and really become part of an organization,” said Francisco Montalvo, assistant director of global projects in Purdue's Office of Professional Practice.
Students collaborate on engineering projects with companies, resulting in greater mentorship from supervisors and advanced technical training from Purdue faculty.
“This combination of perspectives will significantly enhance the quality of engineers produced by Purdue and our industry partners,” Montalvo said.
The LWW model was developed to provide students with a yearlong continuous experience rather than a rotational co-op, allowing for fully integrated learning with high-level training and broader responsibility for students.
“The global pandemic accelerated the adoption of online education,” said Luna Lu, director of the OPP. “LWW enables college students to gain work experience through co-op and internships while making substantial academic progress to avoid significant delays in graduation.”
At Purdue, 671 students have taken 1,744 online courses (more than 3,400 credit hours) while conducting their co-ops and internships during 2021-2022, she said.
OPP works with new employers that don't typically do a rotational co-op; in some of these formats, employers are interested in hiring students for continuous work. The intent is to build more courses online so students can earn credit while completing an LWW session.
“We believe the technical and professional skills students will gain via a full year of work, and engagement in real-life engineering projects mentored by the company and Purdue faculty, will make this the Honors of work-integrated learning,” said Joe Tort, associate director of the OPP.
During the LWW pilot study in 2021, six postings with Cummins were filled with a diverse group of students from the College of Engineering. Since then, six new yearlong co-op postings have been added with 34 students currently working under this modality. In addition, five new companies — Tesla, Evonik, ZF, AWS and Radian Technologies — joined in 2022.
LWW students earn a co-op certificate after fulfilling their 12-month commitment. The intent is to develop academic courses for students to take online while participating in a co-op experience to reduce the time to graduation from 5 years to 4.5 or 4 years. OPP is building partnerships with co-op employers to hire cohorts of students, and while working, students take a 3-credit course online during each of the academic periods for which the student is registered for co-op.
Students complete for-credit engineering projects that are integrated into the work experience. These projects incorporate company mentors as well as a Purdue faculty mentor.
Greg Shaver, professor of mechanical engineering, helps to guide the project aspect of the program. Currently, he is the faculty mentor for Evan Hill, a junior in electrical and computer engineering.
“Together with his Cummins mentor, Shravan Vudumu, we are guiding Evan's work focused on the calibration of advanced control systems for future generations of Cummins high-efficiency, low-NOx IC engines for commercial vehicles,” Shaver said.
Jiyoon Im, a mechanical engineering junior from Busan, South Korea, began her LWW co-op at Cummins in the Spring 2022 semester and already has experienced a wealth of learning and personal development opportunities that she will use during the remainder of her academic career and beyond. She particularly enjoys the “Tech Topic” part of each meeting, in which a member presents about current work and projects.
“Everyone comes together with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, bouncing ideas off each other to tackle the problem to make the product more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective,” Im said.
Steven E. Ferdon (BSMet '82), director of Global Engineering Technology for Cummins Electronics & Fuel Systems Business, said Cummins is excited to participate in the LWW pilot project. “When fully developed, this new co-op format will be a 'win' for all participants. For the employer, a 12-month co-op is an opportunity to complete broader and deeper technology projects than what can be accomplished in a traditional summer internship. For the Purdue academic advisor, it is an opportunity to work on practical real-world problems, while building a collaborative relationship for future industry-funded research. Most importantly, for the student, it is an opportunity to stay on schedule for graduation, earn significant income to offset tuition costs and strengthen their resume with extended industrial work experience.”