Oregon Schools Produce Work-Ready Grads

Jill Pinkstaff is a 23-year-old mechanical engineer who has worked for Eugene, Ore.-based Hynix Semiconductor and Intel Corp, Hillsboro, Ore. Although Pinkstaff has cultivated a great career, she's missing one thing: her degree. Sound like a real-life Doogie Hauser? Try MECOP participant. MECOP—The Multiple Engineering Cooperation Program—launched at Oregon State University (OSU) in...

01/01/2005


Jill Pinkstaff is a 23-year-old mechanical engineer who has worked for Eugene, Ore.-based Hynix Semiconductor and Intel Corp, Hillsboro, Ore. Although Pinkstaff has cultivated a great career, she's missing one thing: her degree. Sound like a real-life Doogie Hauser? Try MECOP participant. MECOP—The Multiple Engineering Cooperation Program—launched at Oregon State University (OSU) in 1981, provides engineering students with two six-month, full-time internships at different West Coast companies.

 

Students like Pinkstaff have an opportunity to experience real-world work while still in college. Earning at least 70% of a starting engineer's salary, the students are challenged to meet deadlines, demonstrate responsibility and apply the information they've learned in their classes.

 

"What's great about these internships is that you're using what you learn in school, but you're seeing how it works in the real world," says Pinkstaff, a senior at Portland State University (PSU). "Before working at Intel, I had never worked in groups, planned meetings or worked on a schedule, but they gave me a project and said, 'It's due in three months; figure out how to get it done.'"

 

The MECOP experience

According to MECOP Director Gary Peterson, the program grew out of a mandate from local industry that felt a theoretical engineering education was not producing work-ready graduates. Today, more than 70 member companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Eastman Kodak, Boeing Co., CH2M-Hill and United Parcel Service, sit on the board that directs the program, establishes criteria and provides financial assistance. Besides OSU and PSU, the Oregon Institute of Technology is also a MECOP member on the university side.

 

Internships for MECOP students take place from March to September of the third year of school and again at the same time during the fourth year. More than 350 students going into their junior year applied to MECOP for 2004 internships; 260 were awarded interviews and 130 of those were chosen by board members for the program. MECOP maintains about 300 students total in the program each year, about 30% of each graduating class.

 

"We want them to see two management styles, two product lines, two company cultures," says Peterson. "Our whole goal is to arm them with enough information to make a good career choice."

 

Of course, MECOP students, to accommodate two internships, are on a track to graduate in five years vs. the usual four.

 

Businesses benefit from MECOP

 

Mike Bowyer, a 1994 MECOP grad, and now a senior manufacturing engineer for Intel Corp., sits on the program's advisory board. Bowyer says that MECOP offers a huge payoff to the companies as well as students. "There's no headcount impact to our direct business; it's virtually free for the business unit, minus indirect expenses and salary," says Bowyer, who is hoping to hire 33 interns this year. For the record, that would consitute the most interns hired by a single company to date.

 

"Over the last few years when we had economic crisis here we had a hiring freeze, but we were still able to bring in interns," says Bowyer.

 

Jamie Miller, a 2004 MECOP grad, worked for Intel during her junior year at OSU and was hired by Bowyer, her mentor, for a permanent position right out of school. "When I applied for this job, I knew I'd like the work environment, I already understood the work and I knew I would fit in with the group," says Miller, now a manufacturing engineer in desktop design support at Intel. "They knew who I was, and my work ethic; they already knew how I fit in."

 

Lester Tovey, MECOP class of 1999, is now a human resources representative at Hynix Semiconductor. He is also chairman of the MECOP advisory board. He attributes these two post-graduate jobs to the program, as they were both a direct result of MECOP contacts. "The program is unmatched," says Tovey, citing MECOP's 98% Fundamentals of Engineering Exam pass rate. "Some of the overall maturity and focus the students gain comes from knowing what the real world is doing. It is invaluable."

 

"Tekbots" is another facet of the program that gives students a leg up. Created at OSU with the aid of Beaverton, Ore-based Tektronix, Tekbots is a platform for learning based on a robot. As freshmen, students are given a kit filled with materials to create a robot the size of a text book. Engineering classes are modified to give students material in a specific order so that they can do homework assignments with their machine. According to Ron Adams, OSU's dean of engineering, Tekbots allows students room for individual creativity. It's these experiences, he believes, that make the program truly sustainable.

 

"Many of OSU's graduates come back to get MECOP students," says Adams. "That's because MECOP puts students in an environment that helps them learn how to solve engineering problems at the speed and culture of business. Those are the students in the highest demand."

 



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