How co-ops and internship experiences are giving Statler College students a leg up on the job search.
Story by Olivia Miller, Communications Specialist
Photos by Olivia Miller, Communications Specialist
Four years come, and four years go — fast. You’re pouring over your textbooks, attending lectures, studying for exams, and filling your brain with new information every day that will benefit you in the future. On top of that, you’re meeting friends, having new experiences and making memories that last a lifetime, shaping you into your future, professional self.
Your undergraduate education is a mixed bag of emotions: fun, overwhelming, exciting, scary at times, but it’s all preparing you for one thing — a career.
At the Statler College, you have an opportunity to best position yourself for a career by taking advantage of internships and cooperative learning opportunities facilitated through the College’s in-house Advising Center, which is staffed with individuals whose main goal is to help you transition from student to professional.
FACT: An internship typically runs for 10-12 weeks in the summer and a cooperative learning opportunity, or co-op, is a program where you leave school for a semester to work in industry. Then you will typically alternate between taking classes and working with the same company every other semester for up to three to four total work terms, including summers.
STATS: 121 potential employers attended the 2021 WVU STEM Career and Internship Fair ready to connect with Statler College students.
Dean Mago’s Top Initiative
When I arrived at WVU in 2020, one of my top initiatives was to engage more students in co-op and internship experiences. At the Statler College, we strive to provide our students with myriad opportunities for career growth. It is my goal to increase the participation of our students in these programs, as they will have a tremendous impact on their future careers. The statistics below highlight a few examples of the success of our co-op and internship programs within the College.
Percentage of students who participated in a co-op or internship by department in 2019-2020.
- 66% Civil and Environmental Engineering
- 94% Industrial and Management Systems Engineering
- 64% Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
- 89% Mining Engineering
From co-op to career
Hesitant to leave the classroom for a semester and potentially fall behind, Ben Underwood was unsure if a co-op learning opportunity would be the right choice for him. Underwood attended the annual career fair held by the Statler College and introduced himself to a recruiter from Toyota, interested to learn more about what the experience would be like.
Following their conversation, Underwood, a native of Glenville, West Virginia, handed over his résumé and was able to set up an interview with the company right on campus with the help of Lloyd Ford, coordinator of corporate relations and career assistance.
In January 2017, Underwood began his co-op at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia (TMMWV), at the same time the new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) 4 Cylinder Engine Line engine line was being installed. On the job, he set up auxiliary tooling for the new line, installed a fleet of robots that transferred parts to the main assembly line and designed solutions to problems.
“Working in industry made me realize that I was pursuing the right degree path, and it also reinforced the concepts that I had learned in the classroom,” Underwood said. “Returning to school after my co-op was an easy transition. I felt more driven to complete my degree after the co-op experience because I knew what I was working towards.”
Underwood graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2018 and worked as a mechanical engineer for a local company for a year.
“Being able to talk about the experiences I had outside the classroom really gave me a leg up in my interviews,” Underwood said. “I was able to show potential employers that I could work as an engineer and had a portfolio of cost savings achieved, projects completed, and references from engineers I worked with. Without my co-op experience, I would not have been able to get that job.”
Today, Underwood is back at Toyota working as a production engineer creating designs for the TNGA 4 Cylinder Engine Line that creates engines for the RAV4.
“WVU does a great job giving its engineering students hands-on experiences in various labs throughout their education,” Underwood said. “My co-op helped give me even more hands-on experience and conceptual understanding during college.
“Basically, I was able to get an extra seven-and-a-half months of experience working in industry on top of my education,” Underwood continued. “Both my co-op and class experiences complemented each other and helped me become a more well-rounded engineer upon graduation.”
Bob Welch, general manager of engine division at TMMWV and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s Advisory Committee, said a big benefit of the program is determining mutual fit.
“It allows the students to explore manufacturing as a potential career path and it allows us to evaluate the potential of the student as a future team member,” Welch said. “From TMMWV’s standpoint it’s ideal when a student comes back for a second internship.”
“We have been successful developing a pipeline of talent from WVU to TMMWV with our coop/internship programs,” Welch continued. “It’s a great way for us to consistently hire new talent and future leaders.”
Shamaya Morris, a native of Morgantown, West Virginia, shares a similar experience working with Toyota. She connected with a recruiter at the annual career fair, had an interview the very next day and was offered the co-op position on the spot.
Morris graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and management systems engineering in 2012 and in 2013 started graduate school in the same program. She began a co-op term at Toyota in December 2014 and then returned to school to develop her thesis to complete her studies.
“The report I went on to defend was a collaboration with Toyota,” Morris explained. “I was able to work with the plant manager, who served on my research committee, in developing a layout solution that I could use for my research defense to complete my degree. Once completed, I returned to Toyota in 2016 as a full-time production engineering specialist and the rest is history!”
Morris said during her co-op experience she was treated as an actual engineer, which gave her a stronger insight into the tasks she is asked to do in her role today.
“Whenever issues or events occurred on the production floor, I was included in every part of the troubleshooting process,” Morris explained. “When projects would pop up for completion, I was always tasked with some level of integration or implementation. My immediate work group pushed me to think like a professional engineer, and really cared to hear my input and view on things.”
Morris stressed the importance of hands-on learning experiences, which made it much easier for her to see the things discussed in her classes applied in a real-world setting. After her term ended at Toyota, she knew exactly what she needed to do and how to prepare for it.
“It’s one thing to go into a job or position with an idea of what you may be doing,” Morris said. “It’s something totally different to have the experience to help guide you. I felt more confident about my role here because I had done it before.
“I knew exactly what to expect and how to approach it and because I had the experience walking in, it made me that much more available to learn more and new things,” Morris continued. “I was able to jump right in.”
Coursework at the Statler College is different than at other institutions, in a good way. While you won’t get completely away from those lofty textbooks, there are a plethora of opportunities to use your hands to build, experiment and innovate.
Ford explained that it’s this kind of education that separates Statler College students from others and consistently results in excellent job offers.
“The most common and consistent feedback from companies is the work ethic of our students,” Ford said. “Some universities are really focused on book knowledge, our students are a lot more hands-on and we have a lot of getting dirty type projects where you are actually building the off-road vehicle, you are busting your knuckles trying to tighten down the mounting bracket you just installed. That hands-on translates really well into real-world work experience.”
Additionally, the vast network of opportunities for co-op and internship experiences allow students to determine the right career path. In the Department of Mining Engineering, students will have at least one or two summer internships prior to graduation.
“These are paid internships and they offer students not only to see real-world applications of what they learned in the classrooms, but also valuable on-the-job training and to gain practical experience, tools and skills that will serve students well in their future careers,” said Vladislav Kecojevic, Robert E. Murray Chair of Mining Engineering. “It is gratifying to have our students working in a variety of commodities and gaining experience over the summer across 18 different U.S. states.”
Whether it’s redesigning a vehicle to turn it into an energy-efficient hybrid, teaming up with your fellow classmates in a mine rescue competition, building a robot to help NASA engineers, or being fully immersed in company culture, there are unique opportunities lying at every corner.
We’re all on our own journey — what will yours be?Hear it straight from our students ...
Industrial Engineering, Hershey
Internships are incredibly formative opportunities to gain exposure and understand what one wants to do after college. Having experienced four different opportunities for growth outside of my college education, I can attest to these positive effects. In the spring semester of my junior year, I took on a supply chain internship at The Hershey Company. Now with only one semester left before graduation, I am working at the Reese plant in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as an operations excellence intern supporting a process lead.
Each internship opportunity has provided me with an immense amount of growth and clarity towards where I see myself after school. I was able to see through the stigmas of dark and dirty manufacturing plants. As a consultant, I learned that I enjoy business travel but that the hours are long and can take a toll on your body. For Hershey, I have had the wonderful opportunity of working both at corporate and in one of the many manufacturing plants.
At Hershey, I previously worked in a non-technical role as a supply planning analyst. My daily tasks contributed to the manufacturing and movement of Hershey products throughout the supply chain. I valued the chance to see how a Fortune 500 company operated and made it a priority to learn about the inner workings of the departments.
This summer, I am supporting Hershey’s continuous improvement plan while working at the Reese plant. Instead of working behind a desk, I put on my safety boots and walk out to the manufacturing lines every day to collect real-time data and get feedback from the operators. It’s been so valuable to see the chocolate I used to help plan for shipment out of this plant being produced in person. It has made so many connections for me.
My education has already been successful in helping me achieve my goals. The Industrial Engineering Program has been developed so well and will truly aid in the simplest transition to a full-time job. The tools these professors have taught us are being used in real-time at our future employers. At this point, I appreciate how my degree has already, and will continue to be incredibly versatile.
Mining Engineering, Aggregates Mining in Pennsylvania
The spring and summer of 2020 brought unprecedented change to everyone’s expectations and plans for the year. I worked hard to secure a summer internship with Laurel Aggregates in Lake Lynn, Pennsylvania, and I was grateful that the opportunity was not delayed or cancelled as many others had been. I was eager to learn anything that I could, understanding that everyone was doing their part to keep the country moving throughout the uncertainty. With that being said, I can clearly say that my expectations were exceeded at Laurel Aggregates.
As my first intern experience, I was able to rotate through different positions in the company and the mine to help gain an understanding of what the industry entails. I experienced everything from management to shadowing contractors, machine operation and more. Through this, I was able to see the challenges that I may face in this field as well as observe common strategies for success. I had the opportunity to lead and assist in a variety of projects.
My main focus was to work on a cost-effective way to reduce selenium. I also worked to prevent dust from coming off our haul road as well as find a more efficient way for our blasters to navigate the mine and finish loading faces in a quicker manner. When I found free time, the foremen weren’t afraid to throw me into new activities. It allowed me to be trained in different equipment both in the mine and at the plant. I was able to drive a haul truck, operate a manlift and load faces with ANFO. This was a great way to get the hands-on experience that I desire in an internship.
This summer was a great reminder that my chosen field is essential to the continuous growth and success of America. I was glad to have a supportive team to work with that believed in my abilities and who were willing to teach me about their expertise in mining. I am already looking forward to building upon these lessons, as a fundamental and evolving part of our economy.
Mining Engineering, Aggregates Mining in Nebraska
Throughout my time in college, I have had the goal to gain as much experience in the diverse fields the mining industry has to offer. I did not come into school as a mining engineer, but after listening to the presentation in my freshman engineering class from the mining department, I switched. I was drawn to the opportunities, but I did not have any family members, nor did I know anyone who has worked in the mining industry. This was a completely new world for me.
In the summer of 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to gain experience and confirm to myself that I chose the right degree with an internship in underground coal with Murray Energy. My experience was great, and I now validated that I had, in fact, made the right decision to join the mining industry. Sophomore year came around and it was time for me to make my decision on what industry I wanted to pursue the following summer. Did I want to stay in coal, an industry I enjoyed, or gain new experiences elsewhere? I went back and forth on the decision and ultimately took a different route than I had my previous summer. I chose to accept an internship in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, with Martin Marietta at a surface and underground limestone mine.
Moving halfway across the country, entering the aggregate industry with no prior experience, and many other things presented their own challenges, but I was ecstatic to tackle them. Not every day are you given the chance to see how the early mine is developed and partake in solving the complications associated with it. The adolescence of the mine is what I believe gave me the skills and experience that I can carry forward with me throughout my entire career.
Personally, I believe the experience I gained operating the heavy equipment was the most beneficial. In just a few short months, and as an incoming junior in college, I operated the scalar, articulated haul trucks, roof bolter, double boom drill, excavator, skid steer, and loader. Being able to run multiple pieces of equipment is a skill that will benefit me in my future.
My summer internship was one I will never forget. I got to travel and learn about culture all while developing myself as a student and personally. I hope all my future endeavors are as positive as my summer with Martin Marietta. In general, my internships have allowed me to not only gain hands-on experience, but they have also taught me how to communicate, lead projects and other skills that cannot be taught in a classroom.
Civil Engineering, Coop WV Division of Highways
Finding an internship or co-op program for summer 2020 became quite a challenge due to the implications of COVID-19. The West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) had selected me for its co-op program that spring of 2020. However, State officials canceled the program due to concerns about the pandemic. Hoping to regain this opportunity the following summer, I reapplied, and fortunately, I was accepted once again. As I complete the program, I realize that this co-op position profoundly benefits my professional development by allowing me to gain proficiency in surveying, geotechnical drilling and other essential needs of civil engineering projects.
As a rising junior civil engineering student, an undertaking such as this co-op presents a truly eye-opening experience. At this stage, it seems most engineering students have fundamental ideas of the specialties they may want to pursue. However, they are usually not yet certain because they are still completing prerequisite courses before advancing to more industry-specific classes. Even so, I knew I had an interest in transportation and infrastructure as specialties in my career as a civil engineer. Thanks to the West Virginia DOH’s co-op program, I contributed to real projects outlined and coordinated by the state’s hard-working civil engineers.
Through the length of the program, I rotated through several of the functions in the DOH’s Technical Support Division. In May, I began the co-op working with the division’s surveying crew by learning how to survey using highly technical data-collecting equipment.
Working with the DOH’s Technical Support Division, I traveled all over the state and observed how the work of the individual crews comes together to develop and maintain West Virginia’s infrastructure. I can finally see firsthand how the fundamental topics and principles discussed in introductory civil engineering courses apply in the real world.
Naturally, the knowledge I have gained this summer with the DOH solidified my choice of career. It seems my initial interest in transportation and infrastructure as specialties in my career are well-founded. I look forward to continuing my education at WVU’s Statler College to achieve my desired career path, and I am grateful to those responsible for the West Virginia DOH’s co-op program.
Your future starts now!
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