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CO-OP Goes Global

Dr. Steve HarvathSep 23, 2015

Searching for a co-op outside of California is hard enough let alone finding one in another country. For a time, the School of Engineering and Computer Science (SoECS) was fortunate enough to have had a person dedicated to preparing and helping students find international co-ops. Over the years and despite the hurdles, SoECS students have taken co-ops in Japan, Germany, Russia, Sweden, and Mexico.

In the fall of 2014, SoECS contacted companies in Japan and Germany seeking to develop experiential learning opportunities for our students. A positive response from ARC System Works in Japan encouraged me to initiate a request for proposals from students. As a result, three student resumes were submitted to them for review. My contact in Japan at ARC System Works, Tomoko Ichikawa, was very helpful. However, the language barrier was the biggest struggle. We had to make sure that all the understandings were translated into and out of English and into and out of Japanese. I enlisted the help of Pacific's International Studies Program Director, Ryan Griffith, who is luckily fluent in Japanese, and his staff. As a result, ARC System Works agreed to take one of our Computer Science majors, Jason Jung, on as a co-op student.

After obtaining an international co-op, Jason had to get his Japanese visa. A call to the Japanese consulate in San Francisco confirmed that there were several steps and documents needed to be completed by Jason, Pacific, and ARC System Works. There were a few hiccups along this path: missing documents, adjustments to his travel itinerary, and the discovery that the visa Jason applied for was limited to six months to the day. So much for time to play tourist!

Jason soon became our self-proclaimed pioneer for the reinvigoration of the international co-op program in 2015. His experience highlights the challenges facing a student searching for a co-op outside of the United States. Students have to start their search early and be prepared to navigate bureaucratic hurdles and funding issues.

SoECS is also pursuing co-op positions with universities in Germany. One example is Hochschule Esslingen - University of Applied Sciences. This university has a program for its students and exchange students from the U.S. It is located in the heart of the automotive industry and features co-op placements with many automotive firms.  An exchange student at Hochschule Esslingen would take engineering classes in English for the equivalent of one semester followed by an internship for another semester. The university wants to exchange faculty and its semester system isn't completely in sync with Pacific's so we are currently working that out.

We recently visited Mexico where we met with administrators from Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla (UAPAD) in Oaxaca. UAPAD entered into an agreement with Pacific to jointly develop a 'cube sat' for the NASA program. This may be the first step to a more extensive relationship that would include co-ops. We have started to talk about ways to develop an exchange program that would involve experiential learning opportunities for students who would come to Stockton and Pacific students who would be going to Oaxaca.

What now? In our global economy, SoECS students can expect to find opportunities to practice engineering, programming, game development, and more in many emerging markets and countries. It is our job to prepare them so they can succeed. Co-ops are the key in my view.  

Going forward we need to identify and retain companies that appreciate our students' abilities and actively recruit students for co-op positions outside of the U.S.  It is also essential to provide language and cultural survival training for students who intend to pursue overseas jobs. This implies a longer period of preparation on the student's part so we will have to revise how we deliver services and help for students.

This is an experimental period, but the outcome of the experiment will be a solid program that brings value to our students and our corporate partners no matter where they are.

Our alumni have been the key to the establishment of many of our long-running co-ops. A majority of our co-op opportunities are initiated by Pacific alumni. This often involves working behind-the-scenes with the human resource departments at their firms and companies. Our successful alumni have an easy time selling the co-op program to their own companies precisely because they know the quality and the benefits of the program. 

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