Long Live a Co-Op Legacy - Cargnino valued firsthand industry experience

Lawrence Cargnino
In 1964, Professor Lawrence Cargnino established the Cooperative Engineering Education Program within Purdue’s then-School of Aeronautical Engineering. Today, his family honors his vision with an endowed scholarship.

Cargnino was an original. He came to Purdue in 1945 as an instructor in the air transportation program. He received his MS from Purdue in 1948, was promoted to assistant professor the following year, and to associate professor in 1960. By the end of his career, he was the sole faculty member remaining from the School of Aeronautical Engineering‘s 1945 launch.

Cargnino filled many roles — as a tireless instructor, an inspiring educator and a forward thinker — but none perhaps more influential than his role as a steadfast advocate for cooperative educational experiences for undergraduates.

“When I began, a couple classes were on campus, but all our labs were at the airport,” he said in an interview conducted in 2007. “From 1949 to 1960, almost our whole operation was at the airport — it was like a separate campus. The students were dealing with the hardware and the problems in the field, and there’s no substitute for that.”

In 1964 he established the Co-Op Program to engage students in real-life experiences with major aerospace companies. In the program’s first year, seven Purdue aerospace students were placed at five companies. Almost 50 years later, a critical mass of Purdue engineers have had their careers shaped by taking part in the Co-Op Program.

To honor his unique and meaningful legacy, Cargnino’s wife, Frances, along with his family and closest friends, established a $47,000 endowed scholarship in his name to help Indiana residents seeking careers in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. The inaugural scholarship will be granted to an incoming student in fall 2013.

“He loved Purdue, and he loved his work here — it truly was his life’s work,” says Frances. “It was fitting to honor Larry through this scholarship. We know his spirit lives on in this cause, and he would have wanted this.”

Cargnino, who served as coordinator of the Co-Op Program until his retirement in 1984, worked to ensure that students would get both stellar classroom instruction and essential industry experience. His goal was that all graduates get five work periods and at least 18 months of practical, professional experience to add to their studies.

“When I retired, more than one-fourth of our undergraduates were in co-op, and I could tell who those students were,” Cargnino said in the 2007 interview. “They were ahead of their classmates because there’s just a difference between learning something in a classroom and learning something in the field.”

“He loved the Co-Op Program so very much,” says Frances. “He would tell me how well he got to know each student, how he saw them mature and how it really fulfilled him to guide their placement into not only jobs but also professions and vocations.”