Cooperative Education can make all the difference.

by David Collins, EIT

When it came to choosing my area of study for college, the choice seemed very difficult because I was being asked to pick what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Some classes in high school gave me an idea of what I wanted to do. I ultimately chose Civil Engineering because of the broad scope of what I could do with that education. I knew I enjoyed seeing things get built and I wanted to be a part of that.

What made all the difference for me when it came to preparing for a career were my Cooperative Education experiences. I believe that a year of immersive learning in your chosen field should be required no matter what field you are in. My Co-Op experience showed me what day-to-day life in my career would look like and really let me evaluate whether or not that was something I wanted to do. A Co-Op also gives the opportunity to “audition” for a full time position with a company that you like. An eight month audition is a great chance to make a good impression.

During my third-year of school at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) I was required to start my first Co-Op that would last eight months. The Co-Op application process was a long one for me because I wanted to find the right opportunity. I knew I wanted to try the construction side of the industry instead of the design side, mainly because the idea of being in an office on a construction site seemed a lot more fun to me. Welliver offered me a position as a project engineer/intern on a large renovation project. Once my Co-Op term ended I continued to work part-time for Welliver while resuming my studies in school. Welliver once again offered me an opportunity as a full-time intern for eight months. My project manager involved me in more tasks than a short summer internship would have allowed. I learned how to coordinate with subcontractors, work with architects to solve challenges on the jobsite, manage the RFI and submittal process, as well as meet with owners and facilitate walkthroughs.

Having a second full time internship offered even more opportunities when Welliver hired me to work on the RIT MAGIC Spell Studios project right on RIT’s campus. I was involved with subcontractor buyout, managing the change order process, LEED documentation, project scheduling, and owner coordination. An important part of a successful Co-Op experience is working with a company that gives you the opportunity to learn more and succeed. For me, Welliver did a great job at this. When I would start to get comfortable with what I was doing, my project manager would recognize that and get me involved with more challenging tasks. Sometimes the situation would require me to reach out and ask my project manager for more work to do, which is a good skill to learn because it shows initiative and a willingness to get more involved.

At graduation I already had two and a half years of valuable experience in the construction industry, making me a qualified candidate to hiring companies. I was not being considered an “entry-level” employee coming out of college. My co-op experiences were highly valued by employers, because for them it meant less time required training a new employee.

When making the decision where I should work as a full-time employee, Welliver just made sense. The time on Co-Op had allowed me to build many relationships within the company that made me feel comfortable and a member of the overall team. Welliver felt like a place where my skills were valued and everywhere else I looked I did not get that same level of value. The opportunities I received on Co-Op to learn and grow as an employee were also a major factor, because I knew those opportunities would continue into my full-time status.

By the time I graduated and started to settle in to my full time position at Welliver, I was well prepared from those Co-Op experiences to be an Assistant Project Manager. I can confidently say that Cooperative Education has helped prepare me for a career in construction.

A recent graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, David joined the Welliver team in 2016 as a Co-Op employee. He has experienced first-hand what it takes to successfully transition a co-op internship into full-time employment. Currently an assistant project manager with Welliver, he applies his skills on several construction projects for clients in the higher education market including Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and Cornell University.