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EPP 90th Anniversary Logo

The 90th Anniversary of Co-op at the University of Tennessee

The Tickle College of Engineering’s Office of Engineering Professional Practice celebrated 90 years of service this year with special observances during the Engineering Cookout and Fall Engineering Expo in September and during the November Homecoming celebration.

Established in 1926 as the Cooperative Engineering Program, the program offers students the opportunity to combine academic study and professional work experience through educationally relevant, paid co-op or internship positions with one of hundreds of participating employers. It is the second oldest such program in the south, and one of oldest cooperative education programs anywhere.

“Co-op and internships give engineering students an opportunity to see real engineering in practice,” said program director Todd Reeves. “It is a perfect complement to the academic courses they take in pursuit of their engineering degrees.”

Thousands of students and employers have benefited from co-op and internship assignments that expose the students to concepts they may have yet to cover in their course work. When they return to campus and eventually see the theory behind what they experienced in the field, the concepts can be learned and retained more deeply.

”Then when they return to the next assignment, they are that much more valuable as a developing engineer,” said Reeves. “This deep cycle of learning continues until they graduate.”

A high priority for the professional practice program is continuing to create opportunities for students by adding more employers and encouraging more students to pursue cooperative education and internship education assignments. Reeves and team look for ways to streamline the process to make it easier for new employers and students to get involved, and to encourage already participating employers to consider expanding their programs.

The fall and spring Engineering Expos are the premier events for recruiting engineering students. Representatives from companies such as TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Eastman, Altec, Nissan and others visit campus, allowing students to discuss opportunities face to face.

Michelle Godbold

Michelle Godbold, a Co-op Ambassador, connected with a career in reliability engineering through her co-op experience.

Michelle Godbold, currently a senior in mechanical engineering and a Co-op Ambassador, connected with her co-op assignments via the Expo, following a veritable family tradition.

“Both of my siblings had done co-op rotations before I started college,” said Godbold. Her older brother and sister let her know about the valuable contacts and practical knowledge they gained though their coops. “After speaking with them, I knew it was in my best interest to make plans to co-op before graduating, as well.”

Godbold’s experience helped shape her focus on her postgraduate career.

“My co-op rotations were in the field of reliability,” she said. “I obtained a minor in reliability, and I have accepted a full-time job as a reliability engineer with ExxonMobil.”

Participating companies view the co-op and internship program as a way to develop a quality, knowledgeable workforce. The relationships forged also fold back to increase possibilities in the Tickle College of Engineering. The establishment of the Eastman Unit Operations Laboratory is a good example. The professional practice office has a long-standing collaboration with Eastman through student co-op and internship placement.

Mark Cox

Mark Cox

“The Eastman team has many former co-ops and interns from the University of Tennessee,” said Mark Cox (BS/ChE ’89), senior vice president and chief manufacturing and engineering officer at Eastman. “These former students are now key contributors in our manufacturing and engineering areas, as well as our businesses. They also act as valuable resources for incoming co-ops and interns, serving as mentors and coaches to help them along in their careers.”

Cox speaks from experience on the matter. As a UT chemical engineering student, he did co-op assignments from 1986 to 1988 at Eastman.

“Being a co-op allowed me to get a significant ‘jump start’ in contributing to the future of Eastman,” said Cox. “From day one of full-time employment, I was much better prepared to contribute than I would have been had I not been a co-op.”

The program allows employers to select students and involve them long enough to make a significant contribution to their organization. Employers expose students to state-of-the-art methods and help them achieve educational goals in ways not offered in the classroom alone. In line with this, the professional practice office also works to enhance outreach efforts to new students. They seek a balance of students to employers, and to leave employers wanting more UT students to work with.

J. Michael Stone

J. Michael Stone

The J. Michael Stone Engineering Professional Practice Leadership Development Program began in 2014 thanks to the generosity of alumnus J. Michael Stone (BS/ChE ’63). This program provides books on leadership development and communication skills for students on co-op and internship assignment. The students are encouraged to read these books and apply the skills learned during their work assignments. Stone was inspired by the success he found during his own coop experience.

“I was a co-op student with Monsanto Chemical in Columbia, Tennessee, from 1959 to 1962,” said Stone. He found his time working in the field rewarding in multiple ways. “The co-op break helped me ‘recharge my batteries’ so that I was ready to tackle the challenging engineering courses when I returned to campus. Most importantly, I was able to earn enough to pay for all of my college expenses. The experience gave me a big head start when I began my career with Allied Chemical. As a result, in less than a year, I was promoted to a supervisory position in manufacturing.”

Dwight Hutchins

Dwight Hutchins

Other prominent alumni also contribute elements of their success to the co-op program. Dwight Hutchins (BS/ChE ’86) is the Asia Pacific managing director of Accenture’s strategy consulting practice for consumer products. He did co-op assignments with Georgia Kraft, a paper mill, and with DuPont in Nashville.

“I gained perspective on what engineering was like on a practical, day to day basis,” said Hutchins. “Perspective and exposure gave me motivation to continue and sharpen my area of focus to manufacturing and operations, and ultimately management. Potential employers liked that I had focus, backed by experience and insight supported by examples.”

Christopher Karsten

Christopher Karsten

Christopher Karsten (BS/ME ’96) is the vice president of supply chain integration for Analytics & Supply Chain Services in Chicago. He participated in co-op from 1993 to 1995 as a manufacturing engineer at the TRW Koyo Plant (now JTEK Automotive) in Vonore, Tennessee.

”My co-op experience set the tone for my professional career and gave me a confidence I would have not had otherwise,” said Karsten. “As a co-op student, I earned money each work term that enabled me to focus more on my studies because I worked significantly less during each school term. I earned confidence as a co-op student that enabled me to be successful when joining the full time workforce. As an employer, I see a program like the UT TCE has as a great opportunity to cultivate talent in a marketplace that is so tight. What a good thing for UT, and for my organization.”

Engineering students gather to learn about with potential employers during the Engineering Expo.

Engineering students gather to learn about with potential employers during the Engineering Expo.

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