Fermilab Engineer Maurice Ball, left, and Cooperative Education Program student Jared Gaynier look up a few figures in a co-op binder for the Mechanical Support Department. Co-op binders (visible in the background) contain information generated by students in the co-op program and go back as far as 1991.
They say that youth is wasted on the young, but folks at Fermilab think otherwise.
Through Fermilab’s Cooperative Education Program, laboratory staff take advantage of youthful eagerness for tackling problems and learning more about the world, giving budding engineers projects that help them advance their careers even as they advance the lab’s mission.
Fermilab is working to expand employee participation in the program, which began in 1976 and assists in the lab’s mission to support STEM eduation and groom future engineers. More than 20 current Fermilab employees are co-op program alumni.
Engineer Maurice Ball, co-op coordinator for AD’s Mechanical Support Department, says participating in the program has given a boost to the department.
“Thanks to the co-op program, our engineering team accomplishes multiple tasks critical to the lab’s goals that could not otherwise happen,” Ball said. “This is especially true during times of lean budgets and condensed regular staff, so our department has benefited greatly.”
In the co-op program, engineering students at a four-year university with at least sophomore standing work a minimum of three semesters or four quarters at Fermilab, alternating periods of full-time study at their schools with full-time employment at the laboratory. The laboratory divisions provide the student with a competitive salary based on the academic credits he or she has earned. In return, the division gets apprentice-level support for its workforce.
The students get an education beyond what they gain in the classroom.
“The program gives you real-world experience, right out of college, and it helps you to be competitive, showing you exactly how what you learn applies in industry,” said Kettering University mechanical engineering student Jared Gaynier, who works with Ball. “Working this way gives more meaning to what you’re learning.”
It’s the kind of education that stays with the student, Ball said.
“Students come back years later with amazement at how the understanding they acquired as co-op students came to fruition in the classroom or later in their professional careers,” he said.
Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer believes the program has great potential and that many at the laboratory could benefit from it.
“It’s not only the students but also the lab’s employees that are rewarded when they work together to develop new talent in the engineering field,” Lockyer said. “The co-op program has a successful history at the laboratory, and I’d like to see it grow.”