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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: August 19, 2002
Volume 38, Number 3

Students earn while they learn
Co-op program provides valuable experience

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

Learning by doing is taking hold at colleges worldwide.
This fall, more than 600 students are registered for the UNM Cooperative Education Program, which connects academic theory with paid work experience.

Students not only earn while they learn, they often gain a foothold in a position related to their field of study.

“Eighty percent of our students get fulltime job offers from their co-op employer after graduation,” says Mary Montaño, career development facilitator for UNM Career Services. “And typically, they will earn $3-5,000 more per year than a student who didn’t do the job as a co-op.”

To begin a co-op, UNM students must have completed 24 hours of coursework. Because the majority of students hold fulltime jobs, linking employment with education aids retention.

“Many of our students support themselves or whole families. Our focus is to get the student degree-related experience. It’s better to find out as a junior that this is not what you want to do with your life. It’s a good career exploration tool,” Montaño says.

“I’m majoring in Managing Information Systems and my job with Intel Corporation is exactly what I have been studying for,” says UNM senior Jason Maxwell. “I applied what I have learned in school and learned much more about my major.”

Local employers benefit, too. A UNM technical writing student working for a small desktop company wrote a proposal netting the organization a $2.5 million grant. And UNM history majors have been a boon for a short-handed U.S. Census Bureau. The USDA and Philips Semiconductor are big UNM co-op supporters.

Our focus is to get the student degree-related experience. It’s better to find out as a junior that this is not what you want to do with your life.

Mary Montaño

Co-ops differ from internships, typically unpaid positions lacking a formalized agreement between employer and student. A co-op is an official position that pays from seven to $30 per hour and the experience is reflected on college transcripts. Co-op employees maintain fulltime student status even if short a fulltime course load.

Career Services staff recruit students to the program holding office hours at several colleges and speaking to classes and student organizations and participate in outreach events.

Montaño is president of the New Mexico Experiential Education Association (NMEEA). She chaired the state association-sponsored national Cooperative Education and Internship Association conference in April attended by more than 300 career services professionals from across the United States, Japan, Germany, England and Australia.

The event raised funds for NMEEA future projects. “It was a huge financial success. We exceeded our goal by more than 350 percent,” Montaño says. “It was a challenge and a growth opportunity for the state association.”

The new funds will allow NMEEA to cosponsor with UNM and New Mexico State University (NMSU) a public sector job fair at NMSU Nov. 19 and UNM Nov. 21. Students enrolled at any two or four year college in New Mexico are invited to attend.

For information, contact Career Services at 277-2531.