Mitton was the store’s first co-op student, a "test subject," according to Joseph Castaldo, the store’s general manager. He met Mitton at a job fair and was impressed by her energy and intensity. "Having interns is a way to build our company from within," Castaldo says. "Heather was a solid candidate and wasn’t afraid to get involved with any aspect of store management. Everything for her was ‘Yes.’"

Castaldo plans to have more SU co-op students and will make some changes to The Finish Line’s program based on feedback he received from Mitton. Pleased with the outcome of the "test case," he believes the experience benefited both the student and the company. "The co-op program enables the student to get a head start on a career," he says. "And I get a quality person ready to run a store."

Finding competent managers is imperative for retailers like The Finish Line, which has 405 stores in 39 states and continues to expand. The College for Human Development’s co-op program helps meet the store’s need for qualified personnel. "The service industry has been growing for a long time and retail leads the pack," Osborne says. "I think there’s a crisis at the mid-management level now. Retailers bend over backward to attract bright, well-educated people willing to go into the field."

Samuel Clemence, a Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and interim director of ECS’s Cooperative Education Program, is a strong believer in co-ops. "It does help students–especially young students–clarify their thinking about what they want to do," says Clemence, who was a co-op student in his undergraduate days. "When they graduate, they are several steps ahead of their colleagues, because they’ve been in the working world. They understand what engineers do. It’s a wonderful experience."

Co-ops are optional for ECS students, who may apply to the program in the fall of their sophomore year. "The students have to be interested in doing a co-op," Clemence says. "They have to apply for it and be accepted."

Clemence and associate director Karen Kenty work with students to help them find jobs that will interest them. "We don’t secure the jobs for them–they interview with employers, who then decide whether to hire them," Clemence says. "We bring a number of employers to campus to interview students. The industry here in Central New York is very supportive and wonderful to us–companies like Eastman Kodak; O’Brien & Gere; Blasland, Bouck & Lee; Lockheed Martin; GE–they help make our program a success."

To get ready for work, co-op students participate in a series of workshops, which cover writing a resume, sharpening interviewing skills, researching companies of interest, and workplace ethics. "We didn’t start the ethics workshop until the program had been in place several years," Clemence says. "We discovered that students had problems with ethical issues that came up. The workshop is designed to help them with those problems." Students may encounter such issues as properly reporting travel expenses or overtime work, Clemence says, but they’re also taught to be aware of engineering-related ethical conflicts that may involve public safety. One example used in the workshop is the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Engineers argued that the launch should be postponed because the cold temperature would jeopardize the fuel-delivery system, while managers pushed for the launch to gain publicity. "The managers overruled the engineers, thinking they were too conservative," Clemence says. "And we all know what happened."

About 25 percent of ECS students take part in co-ops. Clemence would like to see that number increase and is changing the program to encourage greater participation. "When we started the program, our goal was for the students to participate in several co-op work blocks, each one lasting a semester, and still graduate with their class," he says. "We got away from that for a time–we went to a three work-block experience and found the students weren’t as happy, or didn’t complete the program." To remedy the situation, Clemence plans to return to the two work-block model and make the program more flexible.

Adrienne LiBritz ’00, who majored in civil engineering, says some of her classmates decided not to do a co-op because a third work block meant another semester in school. "A lot of students didn’t want to go to school over the summer, which is what I did," she says. "But I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t do a co-op–it’s a great program."

LiBritz spent two semesters at Stearns & Wheler, a firm of environmental and civil engineers and scientists in Cazenovia, New York. During her co-op, she worked in three departments: wastewater treatment, solid waste, and water treatment. "The people at Stearns & Wheler are great," she says. "They always have students there and move them around so they can get a taste of each department. It helps students become more well-rounded."

LiBritz found that the work she did at Stearns & Wheler not only reinforced what she had learned in her studies, but also gave her a head start on coursework. "Before I worked there, I had never studied hydraulics," she says. "It was so much easier for me to understand when I came back to school and took the hydraulics class."

Beth Ann Smith ’85, G’91, project manager at Stearns & Wheler, says her firm uses co-ops as part of its recruiting effort. Her first co-op student, David Prickett ’98, currently works for the firm as a resident project engineer in Massachusetts. "I’m a big fan of the co-op program," Prickett says. "I’m using everything now that I learned in school and as a co-op student–client-serving responsibilities, specifications, equipment. When you are in the field, you can really put it all together."

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