When Michael Weyer came to BGSU as a student, it was the biggest place he had ever lived. But his cooperative education experiences in the College of Technology took him to Colorado and served as a springboard to jobs in Denmark and Switzerland after he graduated in 1999.
“The sky is really the limit,” says Weyer, now a Boise, Idaho-based freelance videographer whose clients include ABC, NBC, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. “The co-op program gives you the chance to broaden your horizons before you have to play in the real world. … This is the chance to go after your goals.”
Nearly 14,300 BGSU students have done just that—including more than 130 this semester and nearly 700 annually—in the technology college’s Cooperative Education Program, which is marking its 40th birthday in 2008-09. The program will welcome alumni at Homecoming this weekend, part of a yearlong celebration that will kick off a 10-year campaign aimed at creating at least a $2 million endowment.
“It’s still a unique imprint of the College of Technology,” as well as the oldest co-op program at BGSU, said Barry Piersol, the program’s director since 1985. That was the same year the technology area became a college, completing an evolution from being a school and, before that, the Department of Industrial Education and Technology.
The latter name was adopted after Dr. Jerry Streichler came to Bowling Green in 1967 as chair of what was then the Department of Industrial Arts and Engineering Drawing. At that time, practically all of its graduates were junior high and high school industrial arts teachers, Piersol said, but Streichler was instrumental in the name change and providing the leadership in curriculum development, reflecting a desire to steer more students toward industry.
The shift in emphasis generated “phenomenal change in a short period,” Piersol continued, noting that the number of students with majors in the department quickly rose from about 300 to 400. Of the 400, roughly 300 were studying technology, while the other 100 were still in education, he said.
Because of the department’s education history, however, including student teaching, faculty and administrators felt field-based experiences were needed for technology students as well, Piersol explained, and the co-op program was born.
Today, College of Technology majors participate in up to three required co-ops, earning the distinction of graduating with the equivalent of one year of industrial experience, co-op coordinator Karen Bloomfield pointed out.
The co-ops are also credit-bearing courses, included on students’ degree check sheets toward graduation. Employers like the mandatory, credit-bearing nature of the program because they know both that students aren’t working for them frivolously, and that the students realize they need to do a good job, said the assistant director, Thomas Siebenaler.
Siebenaler said, too, that the program is fortunate not to have to always “shake the trees” for work sites for students. “The relationship with the employers has been great,” he added, saying that continuous efforts are made to increase the number of employer partners.
The program’s merits aren’t lost on students after they become alumni, as evidenced by Weyer’s testimonial. Among the others that came in response to a birthday-related request for stories was one from State Farm Insurance agent Sal Sciallo.
Sciallo wrote that he took a co-op with State Farm in 1991 to complete his final credits at BGSU. Because of his construction management background, the company hired him immediately after graduation and assigned him to its National Catastrophe Team, writing damage estimates for commercial and residential buildings destroyed by natural disasters, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Northridge Earthquake in 1994.
“The opportunity of my co-op allowed me to obtain a job with a Fortune 500 company (and) immediately start using my education in construction business management,” he wrote. “I truly could not even imagine where I would be today if I had not taken advantage of an opportunity that co-op had presented.”
During the 40th-birthday year, Piersol said he hopes to persuade more alumni to support the program as employers to mentor or sponsor current co-op students.
An infusion of federal money in the 1990s helped the program expand, and changing technology has come to include PlacePro, an online service that matches employers with students seeking co-ops. But the program’s biggest boost may have been its accreditation, in 2005, by the national Accreditation Council for Cooperative Education. BGSU was in the charter group of 10 accredited universities along with the University of Cincinnati, which is widely considered to be the founding father of cooperative education.
“It is without a doubt the strength of our undergraduate program … that makes our students unique and very marketable upon graduation,” said Piersol, who came to BGSU in 1977 as an instructor in technology. “That’s what we’re here for—to see the students grow in knowledge and maturity and apply what is learned in the classes, the laboratory and their co-op experience.”