"Professor, do you have any advice for my coop interview at the
hospital?" said the student preparing to leave for an interview
that he hoped would be the start of a career in purchasing.
"Yes," the professor replied. "Lose that earring. This
hospital is very conservative and once they see that earring, your
career as a purchasing intern will be over before it starts." The
student did manage to lose the earring that day, had his interview, was
accepted by the hospital, and experienced a successful cooperative
education at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The
student gained professional experience and credit in his major, the
hospital gained an excellent intern, and the college received tuition
money and favorable image enhancement by the quality work of the intern.
The idea of colleges and businesses coming together through
cooperative education programs is neither new nor limited to any one
region of the country. Cooperative education programs have been recorded
as early as the 1906 program at the University of Cincinnati. These
internships developed from the idea of cooperative education programs
whose primary function was to enable students in professional programs
to finance their education. Their growth benefited from models used in
the field of education where practice teaching is a requirement for
certification. Multiple studies point out that internships are possible
in almost any discipline.(1) While internship programs are available on
over 1,000 college and university campuses, we believe that these
programs have not begun to reach their full potential in terms of
serving students and the private and public sectors. An informal survey
of employers, academicians and students identified the following
barriers to success:
1. Internships are electives in most business programs.(2)
2. Interns perceive that they have paid for the privilege of doing
"gopher," dead-end work.
3. Faculty do not consider internships part of the educational
4. Employers do not view internships as mentoring opportunities.
5. There can be unequal commitments and expectations among the
various parties involved.
Through quality initiatives and continuous improvement and
refinement, the management faculty at Robert Morris College have
identified several strategies for removing some of these barriers and
are seeking to implement these strategies.
In our view it is necessary to constructively question the current
value of cooperative education programs and to expand the dialogue
concerning strategies necessary to reengineer them - should we decide to
keep them. We prepared ourselves to engage in discontinuous thinking.
One of the discarded assumptions was that employers who participate in
cooperative education are reliable and adequate role models. While most
employers with whom we have been jointly involved are dedicated to
providing a motivating and challenging experience for an intern, the
college must be prepared to address that occasional employer who is not
quite so dedicated. Several years ago a new cooperative education
student working as an assistant manager at scuba gear store had to be
removed from the co-op and reassigned after only a few weeks on the job.
It seems that during the first several weeks, the student had to deal
with repeated instructions by supervisors to ignore OSHA safety
regulations regarding the filling of customer scuba tanks. The overfill
instructions given to the student by his managers jeopardized the safety
of customers. In another case, it became necessary to reassign an intern
after only one week on the job because the intern had observed both his
manager and assistant manager return to the store intoxicated.
We have also had to be prepared to abandon protective thinking and to
hear negative reports about our interns. A health club manager
terminated an intern because he overheard the intern tell a customer
that his internship "sucked." Another intern was so disruptive
in undermining her supervisors that after only three weeks on the job
she was dismissed. Despite several warnings, a third intern continued to
schedule doctor and dentist appointments during her working hours. As a
result, it became necessary to terminate her. Occasional negative
reactions by employers have led to efforts on our part to advise
students of behaviors that are "inappropriate."
We have, however, held our basic premise that cooperative education
is needed to provide academic and business services and growth
opportunities for college students. We concur with the challenges
offered in the "Workforce 2000" literature. We believe that we
are developing and continually improving a program that responds to the
shift in employment paradigms. The previous paradigms produced:
* expectations of lifelong employment in one company,
* narrow and rigidly defined jobs, and
* rigid demarcation between functions.(3)
In contrast, we see cooperative education internships as part of the
new paradigm of employees seeking multiple experiences and exposures.
Many institutions find cooperative education internships to be
exceedingly valuable to the students who participate. This is true for
most of the students who come through management internships at Robert
Morris. Nguyen sums up the benefits to students in this strong
statement: ". . . whether it offers total immersion, an opportunity
to get your feet wet or just dirty your hands . . . affords a taste of
reality you could never find on a college campus."
Identified benefits to student participants include:
1. Greater meaning attached to the student's academic program.
2. Increased opportunities to examine career possibilities.
3. An opportunity to explore a possible fit with a particular company
prior to going through the hiring process.
4. An opportunity for training under both academic and practitioner
5. Increased maturity and confidence through handling added
6. An opportunity to develop interpersonal skills through working
with a group less homogenous than collegiate peers.
7. An opportunity to earn money while learning (in paid internships).
Documented benefits to the business community include:
1. The opportunity to preview the skills and evaluate the potential
fit of an employee prior to the hiring process.
2. "Cross fertilization of ideas"(5) among intern, faculty
sponsors, and business supervisors.
3. The opportunity to establish contact with local collegiate
business programs and faculty.
4. An opportunity to build public relations and/or brand loyalty.
5. An avenue through which to be socially responsive to the
6. A vehicle for staying current in the field (especially when the
internship faculty coordinator is available for on-site visits).
7. A means of getting seasonal, temporary assistance.
Observed benefits to the academic institutions include:
1. A logical channel for application of management theory (an
important criteria in collegiate evaluation).
2. An additional forum for student and curriculum assessment.
3. A source of practitioner input into curriculum development.
4. A source of employment opportunities for college students.
5. Education that reduces classroom crowding when space is at a
6. Public relations and advertising for the college, which can lead
to increased corporate donations.
7. A recruitment tool for attracting qualified nontraditional
Reengineering cooperative education required that we start from
scratch. We examined whether participation in the program justified the
time and energy demanded of faculty to develop sites, recruit students,
monitor the internships, and assess results. We identified, reviewed,
and evaluated each of the processes needed to establish and maintain a
quality cooperative education program. The processes include:
* Recruitment of students
* Academic preparation and application to cooperative education
* Identification of sites
* Matching student applicants to the co-op sites
* Matching the co-op experience with openings on the academic
* Orientation of the interns
* Intern academic assignments and appraisal process
* Program results
Recruitment of Students
To recruit new management interns, the management faculty utilizes
publicity and promotional materials provided by the cooperative
education department. The faculty use classroom orientations, handouts
by the department cooperative education coordinator, and referrals by
The coordinator of the intern program prepares student intern
testimonials from recent coop internships, identifying the employer and
containing favorable statements from each student intern. The
testimonial sheets are then distributed in junior and senior management
classes. Faculty who look favorably on the program will often endorse it
in their individual courses. At the start of each semester, the
department coordinator allocates class time and S.A.M. campus chapter
meetings for the purpose of discussing and promoting the program.
Previous interns will recommend an internship experience to a friend.
By obtaining updated position descriptions from the faculty coordinator,
the friend can review the descriptions and then decide whether or not to
Academic Preparation and Application to Cooperative Education
In order to be accepted into the program, the student must maintain a
quality point average of 2.0 of 4.0, have no failing or incomplete
grades, have no grade lower than a C in the major, and have at least
three credits of open electives available for the co-op experience. An
applicant must have earned a minimum of 60 credits prior to the start of
the semester in which the co-op is desired.
If eligible, the next step is for the student to attend a general
information session, which is held at the beginning of each term. During
this session, the student is provided with complete instructions and an
application packet. The student must complete the application, provide a
current resume, and be recommended by a sponsoring faculty member. The
completed packet is then forwarded to the head of the management
department for final approval. Once approved, an individual
student's materials are forwarded to employers who regularly
utilize Robert Morris's co-operative education services. Placement
of the student is done through competitive interviews.
Identification of Sites
Rather than leaving the development of co-op sites to Career
Services, we proactively use all of our department faculty networks to
identify possible sites. Leads come through part-time faculty, faculty
corporate consulting and speaking activities, and social contacts. We
stress that this is a synergistic opportunity.
Cooperative education sites are also identified by converting
existing positions at other sites previously not used by department
promotional efforts on Career Day, by continued use of existing sites,
and by developing new sites. But developing new sites requires caution.
The authors are reminded of a student who succeeded in getting a Dairy
Queen site approved for co-op. The Dairy Queen owner agreed to provide
experience in supervision, training, scheduling, and the like. When the
faculty coordinator went to conduct the on-site evaluation, he was
shocked to learn that the intern was reporting to the owner, his mother.
Needless to say, when it came to evaluating the intern, the
"owner" was somewhat biased.
Matching Student Applicants to Co-op Sites
The employer is the best judge of the requirements of the position
and how well a student's specifications match. The cooperative
education department will distribute student resumes to regular co-op
employers and newly developed sites several months in advance of the
next term. The employer will review the resumes and select students for
interviews. Students will schedule the interviews, participate in them,
and, if nothing else, gain practical experience from the interview
Matching the Co-op Experience with Openings on the Academic
Under most circumstances, a management intern will have a number of
credits of open electives available on his or her checksheet. This means
that the student can enroll in several courses of his choice. Some of
these open electives can be allocated to cooperative education. The most
commonly chosen co-op consists of six credits, or about 240 hours of
work per 15-week semester. The specific intern days and working hours
are mutually agreed on by the employer and the student.
Orientation of Interns by Faculty Coordinator
Upon accepting a co-op position, a student receives generalized
guidelines concerning student co-op responsibilities. The student intern
is expected to contact the faculty coordinator and schedule an
orientation session in which all the co-op academic assignments and
workplace expectations are discussed. The seminar allows a one-on-one
exchange between the intern and faculty coordinator. The intern is given
a schedule of assignments, values and due dates of the assignments, and
procedures for contacting the coordinator. Samples of weekly reports and
instructions on completing a journal article analysis are distributed
and discussed. The student is given an opportunity to examine the
faculty coordinator evaluation materials so that the final evaluation
and on-site visit are not a surprise.
Intern Academic Assignments and the Appraisal Process
* Evaluation of Weekly Reports
Each intern must submit a report detailing the previous week's
activities. These reports are valued at 40% of the faculty
coordinator's grade. The reports inform the faculty coordinator
that the work being performed is directly related to the major and is
work for which academic credit can be granted. Preparing these reports
forces the student to think about his workweek, evaluate important work
activities, and place his thoughts in a formal report. Major writing
difficulties and errors can be pointed out to the intern so that these
can be avoided in future reports.
* Journal Article Reports
During a 15-week term, an intern is required to research and prepare
written reports on three journal articles. The intern is instructed to
use the library to select an article from a professional journal. These
three reports compose an additional 45% of the coordinator's
* The Position Description
The final academic assignment for credit is the preparation of a
position description, valued at 15% of the final academic portion of the
grade. This task is deferred until the last week of the cooperative
experience, so that the intern has been at work for 14 weeks before the
description is written. This is a valuable assignment because it forces
the student to re-identify the most important responsibilities of the
internship experience and structure them into a position description. A
copy of the position description can be retained by the faculty
coordinator and shown to prospective student applicants. An additional
benefit of a position description is that it can be provided to a new
cooperative education employer as a model for that employer's
* Academic Appraisal Process
The weekly reports, the journal article reports, and the position
description assignments allow the faculty coordinator to retain control
over the academic portion of the cooperative experience. Sixty percent
of the intern's final grade is based upon the completion of
academic requirements. Interns ultimately realize that while they may be
working away from the institution, they are still undergoing an academic
* The On-Site Evaluation Visit
During the final week of a student cooperative experience, the
faculty coordinator conducts an on-site employer evaluation of student
performance. This part of the process further confirms the mentoring
relationship that has been established between faculty coordinator and
the intern. Various employer and intern forms are used to provide a
collective analysis of the experience. The employer is asked to evaluate
the quality and quantity of the intern's work, the intern's
ability to work with others, and supervisory ability. A simple
evaluation scale is used. The employer's evaluation of the intern
is valued at 40% of the final grade. By tallying the employer's
responses, it is now possible to determine the student's final
internship grade by averaging the cooperative education
coordinator's grade with the employer's grade. The evaluation
form also contains a developmental section in which both intern and
employer are asked to relate the intern's strengths and areas
needing improvement. This allows the intern to recognize areas he or she
can promote in an employment interview as well as those that need some
Management intern partnerships at Robert Morris consist of purchasing
internships at hospitals, human resource internships at personnel
recruitment firms and hotels, administration internships with the Small
Business Administration, supervision internships with various retail
chains, and internships with local government. According to Fitt and
Heverly (1992), the added benefits of these internships appear in the
form of equipment donations, scholarships, and even grant money.(6)
Since 1993, Robert Morris Career Services has assumed the
responsibility for monitoring the student application procedures to
co-op, the sending of resumes to sites, and the records maintenance
function. The effective partnership between Career Services and the
management department has resulted in approximately 125 interns being
placed from the spring of 1993 to the fall of 1996. This amazing success
is directly attributable to our willingness to step back and reengineer
the process. The process results have proven to be worth the time,
effort, attention, and resources.
Note: A successful cooperative education program requires the use of
various forms. Space does not permit the inclusion of these forms here,
but samples can be obtained by writing to the authors at Robert Morris
College, 600 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219.
1. Examples: Burns 1979; Feringer 1984; Henry 1988; Raffield 1985;
Tas 1990; Veitz 1983
2. The exceptions here are in the service programs, hospitality and
3. Taken in part from David Jamieson and Julie O'Mara. Managing
Workplace 2000. (San Francisco, Josey Bass) 1991, p. 36.
4. K. Nguyen as quoted in "Piaget and the University Internship
Experience" by Kathleen Harcharik. Journal of Cooperative
Education, volume XXIX, No. 1, 1993, p. 24.
5. David X. Fitt. Involving the Private Sector with Higher Education.
Journal of Cooperative Education, Volume XXVII. No. 3, 1992, p. 66.
6. Ibid., p. 67.
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Program. Journal of Cooperative Education, 25(3), 44-55.
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on student learning. Journal of Cooperative Education, 29(3), 41-52.
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sector with higher education. Journal of Cooperative Education, 27(3),
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regarding the importance of identified university cooperative education
coordinator tasks and preferred organizational formats. Journal of
Cooperative Education, 25(3), 33-43.
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for co-op students. Journal of Cooperative Education, 29(1), 66-79.
Harcharik, K. (1993). Piaget and the university experience. Journal
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Heinemann, H. N., DeFalco, A. A., & Smelkinson, M. (1992).
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cooperative education: A survey of AACSB accredited institutions in the
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twenty-five years. Journal of Cooperative Education, 25(2), 14-22.
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restaurant management students. Journal of Cooperative Education, 26(2),
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Glenn Thiel, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh,
has been a Cooperative Education Management Intern Coordinator since
1986 and has also been active in SAM activities. Dr. Hartley is a
recognized expert in organizational behavior and time management; she
also focuses on leadership and assertiveness issues and has developed
programs for students, corporations, and academic institutions to assist
people in working productively with others.