The job readiness of college graduates and the role higher education institutions should play in creating candidates who are in demand by employers continue to be a hot topic of national conversation.
When asked what colleges and universities should do to prepare students for the workforce, most business leaders responded that they should expand opportunities for experiential learning, according to a report by Northeastern University released earlier this year.
At Stevens Institute of Technology, the Cooperative Education program speaks to the university’s fundamental approach to academic instruction in providing opportunities for students to obtain real-world work experience while still in college.
And when they graduate, Stevens co-op students are in high demand, often receiving permanent job offers from their co-op employers well before they graduate. This record of success has not gone unnoticed.
For the second year in a row, a student from the Stevens co-op program has been named by the New Jersey Cooperative & Internship Association (NJCEIA) as the 2014 Student of the Year.
Sylvana Azana ’14 graduated this past May with a B.E. in civil engineering and is now working for ExxonMobil Corporation, her co-op employer in summer 2013. Working for ExxonMobil, Azana says, was the “co-op experience of a lifetime.”
Prior to ExxonMobil, Azana completed co-ops with Granite Construction, where she developed real-world construction management skills on significant infrastructure projects, including the Queens Bored Tunnels and Structures, and Tishman Construction, where she worked on the project management team for the expansion of New York Penn Station.
According to Azana, both experiences helped her to succeed at ExxonMobil, where she had to hit the ground running from the moment she began.
“I was confident that my knowledge of construction and project management obtained from these past co-ops would help me excel, but I was eager to begin my co-op with ExxonMobil where I would manage a project all on my own,” said Azana.
But first, this Queens native from Rego Park had to make the transition to Los Angeles, where she was assigned to oversee the installation of a micro-fine cement barrier in the subsurface of an active ExxonMobil Pipeline marine terminal.
“From the very beginning, my supervisor allowed me to use my knowledge and creativity to take the lead of the planning, management and field oversight of the $300,000 project,” she explained, adding that she was also responsible for making sure that the project stayed on schedule.
So impressive was Azana’s performance that at the end of her co-op, her supervisor extended an offer of full-time employment, along with an award as a 2013 ExxonMobil Technical Scholar, which honors outstanding student performance in school and in a co-op.
Knowing full well what the job entailed and having relished her co-op experience, Azana says accepting the offer was an easy decision. She adds that going into her senior year at Stevens with a job secured was a tremendous burden lifted from her shoulders, and gave her parents peace of mind.
When submitting the nomination for Azana to the 2014 NJCEIA Student of the Year Committee, Stephanie Jean Jacques, assistant director of Stevens’ cooperative education program, made note of the fact that Azana was very active on campus and in the community, citing her involvement with The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and her membership in Chi Epsilon and Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Societies. Jean Jacques also adds that Azana became very familiar to the Stevens cooperative education department by actively engaging in departmental activities.
“Sylvana has volunteered to assist during many Office of Cooperative Education events, such as the semester-held interview days, speed interviewing sessions for freshman, and other meetings for co-op students.”
Not only was Azana’s help appreciated by the department, says Jean Jacques, it helped the department to get to know her so that it could make a successful match in finding the right co-op employer for her.
Although she is now far from her parents and the place in which she grew up, Azana says she has quickly grown to love the Southern California lifestyle and is excited to begin her new life and career there. Having achieved her career goals through the Stevens co-op program, Azana plans to make herself available to advise and mentor future co-op students.
“My co-op experiences may have come to an end, but I enthusiastically look forward to encouraging other students to seek similar opportunities, as well as sharing my knowledge with them as they prepare to enter the workforce.”
At Stevens, the co-op program provides students with the chance to combine classroom study with periods of paid professional employment directly related to their majors and career goals. Stevens’ five-year co-op program benefits students by: providing an opportunity to explore in-depth career interests with employers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small entrepreneurial firms; offering practical hands-on work experience that allows students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to solve real-world problems in industry (which, in turn, helps them to confirm their choice of major); and giving them a competitive advantage over students who only have classes and extracurricular activities to highlight.
To learn more about the Stevens Cooperative Education program, please visit stevens.edu/sit/co-op.