Co-op celebrates 100 years, alumni reflect

[media-credit name=”Ansley Thomas” align=”aligncenter” width=”711″][/media-credit]On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Tech celebrated the 100th anniversary of its cooperative education program  in the Student Center Ballroom, welcoming attendants with refreshments and raffles as the alumni celebrated this milestone.

As of now, Georgia Tech has the largest co-op program in the country, and has graduated more than 15,000 students with the co-op designation alone. Students go through a process of applications, orientations, and interviews to find the right job.

Founded in 1912, the co-op program has provided numerous opportunities for Tech students to gain experience in their chosen industry while working toward a Georgia Tech degree. Students alternate between semesters of work and study, gaining practical, paid work experience in addition to their studies.

Many people involved with the co-op program came to give their thoughts and some presentations to commemorate the event.

These included alumni, program directors, past and current co-op students and President Peterson as well. One of the presentations recognized an official “Georgia Tech Co-op Day” in the city of Atlanta.

“If you didn’t have the co-op program, the alumni role would be significantly different, and I am afraid to say, much smaller,” said alumnus and current chair of the Co-op Alumni Affinity Group Dr. Keith Hollingsworth.

According to Hollingsworth, the program wants to get more students and employers involved.

“[In the future], classroom education will change, and students may not have HOPE, which puts a need for financial aid…but the need for students to have experience in the workforce will continue.” said alumnus Dean Offerd.

“When I was an undergraduate student, Co-op was something that most of us did…to pay for school. Nowadays, there are more ways to finance college, so I believe participants focus more on the experience gained, which is the actual intent of Co-op,” said chair of the Co-op Centennial Event and alumnus Tom Atkins.

Regarding the event and what the students should get out of it, Akins said, “I hope they get a sense of the history and tradition surrounding Co-op, and a better understanding of how real world experience in their chosen fields of study can enrich their educations.  If they can realize how a lot of Georgia Tech alumni have sort of paved the path for them, and made so many opportunities available today, that would be a good thing.”

Another veteran of the program, Ken Little, mentioned that the co-op program mainly helped him grow up and to seek professional advice and mentors that he or other students would not have thought to seek from their parents or other close adults.

Dr. Bras, the Provost for Academic Affairs, felt that what appealed most to students from this program was a combination of different views on education, experience and contact with employers.

Students have found value in a multiple areas of their co-op programs. For example, Ryan Thamm is a current co-op student who works with Geo-Hydro Engineers and is the President of the Briaerean Honor Society.

“The reason I joined the program is because of the real world experience…it taught me how to budget, and know whether or not this field is what I want to do…and to have a professional relationship with my employer,” Thamm said.

Thamm felt that the application of the lessons learned in class into the real world was one of the biggest takeaways from his co-op experience.

The aspect of co-oping that I enjoyed most, though, was the balance it provided. I liked working hard and learning throughout the day, but when five o’clock came, it was wonderful to relax and not worry about homework,” Thamm said.

In the next 100 years, “students will still need advice and need to grow up…and Georgia Tech should still have one of the best co-op programs,” Little said, regarding the future of the co-op program.