The Land of “Co-Opportunity”


By Katie Cline

Before they even walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, every college student has one question: “Will I be able to find a job and make money with my degree?” And in a world that almost requires a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions, that seems to be a valid question. So the next questions students face are, “How can I make myself stand out? How can I get my foot in the door?” That’s where Jacksonville State University’s Co-Op program steps in.

The Co-Op program, which has existed in various forms since 1977, is designed to offer students paid experience in their major-related fields as they pursue their degrees. This kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience can be essential in students landing similar jobs after graduation as well as in helping them pinpoint their passions and goals within their chosen careers.

“I got involved with the Co-Op program fairly early on,” said Paul Terrell, a senior at JSU double majoring in applied manufacturing engineering with a concentration in management and occupational safety and health engineering. “Internships and co-ops are heavily suggested in my fields of study, and experience is very vital. That being said, the Co-Op program is an amazing way to find out about the internships and co-ops. It is difficult to find those opportunities alone, so using every resource available is the best way to find one.”

Becca Turner, the director of JSU’s Career Services, said co-ops can pay off.  “We've had students in the past who have had the luxury of staying in a co-op position for three to four years as an undergraduate student, then for two or more years as a graduate student,” she said. “This sort of schedule provides a stable paycheck to the student, hands-on experience, and the possibility to try a company out, prior to committing, if offered a full-time position.”

This summer, JSU has 45 students participating in its Co-Op program at companies ranging from the Honda Motor Company and Parker Hannifin Corporation to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

“My favorite part of my internship has definitely been being in the atmosphere and learning so much,” Terrell said of his time at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama. “I have been into cars since I was a kid, and being able to see exactly how they are made is an awesome experience for me. Everyone I have met has been polite and nice. I could not have asked for a better experience than the ones I have had at Hyundai.”

Justin Caswell, a junior majoring in applied manufacturing engineering with a concentration in design and automation, returned to his hometown of Newnan, Georgia this summer for his second year as an intern at the Yokogawa Corporation.

“This summer, I am shadowing a line engineer and helping with quality improvement projects,” Caswell said. “My favorite part is getting a feel for what I can use my major for and using tools I learned in class. Also, I like being one of the few interns here who is not from Georgia Tech so I can represent JSU and show what our engineering department teaches us.”

While technology-based majors are some of the most in-demand students in today’s workforce, JSU Career Services has placed students of countless majors in co-op positions, from English majors who write manuals for L.E. Bell Construction Company to biology majors who give tours with the Talladega National Forest.

“There are co-op opportunities available with so many companies that it is to the students' advantage to research organizations online to see what each company has to offer,” Turner said. “Usually, a company will devote a page or a half-page to student positions, if their company supports student programs. The research simply takes time and dedication. Career Services is developing new partnerships frequently, so if a student discovers an opportunity and needs Career Services to process the paperwork, then we encourage students to act on their findings and visit our office for the proper documentation.” 

To qualify for JSU’s Co-Op program, a student must have completed 24 credit hours, have maintained a minimum 2.5 GPA, provide recommendations from two professors, and have turned in a Co-Op application form. Then, the student should meet with a Cooperative Education Coordinator. Applications can be turned in to the Career Services Office. Students then have the option of alternating semesters of full-time work and full-time classes or working part-time with their co-op while taking classes at the same time.

“I feel that this opportunity will help me more than anything to reach my career goals,” Terrell said. “In the classroom, knowledge can be learned and some application can be learned, but in the field is where the learning truly begins. Being able to apply what I have learned at JSU has really put my career into perspective for me. I would recommend everyone use the services provided! It is a great program and the magicians behind the curtains that find these opportunities for students are truly a blessing. I searched for an internship on my own for months with no luck, so I know how much work the staff goes through to make this happen for students.”

For more information on the Co-Op program, contact Becca Turner or Lola Johnston in Career Services