The Clemson program celebrates five decades of hands-on learning opportunities for students designed to increase the value of a Clemson degree.
Hands-on learning does more than teach. It drives understanding.
The engaged learning experiences offered by Clemson Co-op allow students to take knowledge in the classroom and apply it with one of hundreds of partner companies. Students spend two to three full-time, paid semesters, and participating companies connect with motivated young learners.
Clemson’s cooperative education program began in 1972 with 19 students. It has become one of the largest voluntary cooperative programs in the country, with more than 1,000 students and 275 partner companies participating last year. In 2021, it was named one of the top 20 cooperative education programs in the nation by US News and World Report. More than 1,300 Clemson students enroll each year with partner companies in more than 25 different states, with a 93% completion rate.
The program celebrated its 50th anniversary at an event on August 25, 2022 at the Madren Center on Clemson’s main campus.
Program Director Jeff Neal said he is proud to be part of an academic program that has provided strong, multi-rotation engaged learning experiences for Clemson students.
“Thousands of co-op students have completed the program and gained a better understanding of the theories involved in their disciplines by applying them in the workplace,” said Neal. “For students who have chosen to take the program over this half-century, it has been a game-changer in the way they learn and develop as professionals. Many of these students went on to work for their cooperative enterprises, which was also a game-changer in this regard.
The cooperative in figures
Co-op students have a unique opportunity to learn more about our corporate culture and receive several on-the-job trainings before making decisions about what they want to do full-time. The program is mutually beneficial because rotations also allow GE to get to know students before graduation, as well as help mentor students.
Amy Wallace, Clemson ’03, Account Manager and Campus Recruiting Manager, GE, Power Gas Power Systems
Opportunities in many majors
The program was originally created for engineering students, but now involves students from most majors at the University. Participants gain invaluable experience at a wide range of businesses, from PespiCo and Campbell’s Soup to BMW and Delta Airlines, to South Carolina business locations including BorgWarner and Robert Bosch LLC Anderson. Typically, participants alternate semesters of work at their host companies between course semesters, usually during their junior and senior years.
Chace Graham, a 2018 Clemson graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, was hosted by the Schaeffler Group, a bearing manufacturer, during his time in the program. He said participating in Co-op took away any fear that he picked the wrong major.
“It was very critical because up until then I thought I wanted a career in engineering, but I wasn’t sure,” Graham said. “I also didn’t know what everyday life was like as an engineer, but I gained this valuable experience through the co-op program. It renewed my interest in engineering and my desire to get a degree. It also allowed me to figure out what I valued in a job and helped narrow the range of jobs I applied for after graduation.
Graham now works as a product design engineer for JTEKT, an international automotive engineering company, and serves as an in-company mentor for the next generation of co-op students.
Over 200 students enter the program each semester and their experiences are monitored by a team of advisors to ensure a successful teaching and learning process. Students receive a certificate and academic recognition on their transcripts at the end of the program.
This is a mutually beneficial arrangement for participating students, the University and corporate partners. Companies that partner with Clemson for the program serve as the university’s teaching partners, and the co-op program experience becomes an integral part of the student’s education. Conversely, participating companies gain visibility on campus and can come into contact with motivated young talent, which can, among other things, reduce the costs and time associated with recruitment and training.
Three companies have participated in the Clemson program since its inception: GE, Dominion Energy (formerly South Carolina Electric and Gas) and Duke Energy.
“For more than 50 years, our partnership with Clemson University’s Cooperative Education Program has helped us invest in the future of our company and the communities we serve,” said Bill Turner, CEO of the electrical distribution for Dominion Energy South Carolina. “We understand that our greatest resource is our people, and this program plays a vital role in growing and expanding our increasingly vibrant and diverse workforce here in South Carolina. We look forward to continued collaboration and success.
This allows us to participate in the creation and development of the next generation of engineers and support professionals through our very successful partnership with the Clemson Co-op Advisory team.
Vanessa Thrasher, Senior Human Resources Associate, Robert Bosch LLC
Better results for students, real benefits for business
Vanessa Thrasher, senior human resources partner at Robert Bosch LLC, which enrolls the most students each semester (often more than 30), said the co-op program has connected the company to a pool of talented engineering graduates and… potential employees.
“Bosch is one of the world’s leading technology and service providers, employing more than 400,000 people worldwide. Our Anderson facility has been a partner of Clemson University’s cooperative education program for decades,” said Thrasher. “We have many organizational leaders today, both in technical and commercial business groups, who are themselves Clemson alumni and former Co-op students.”
Thrasher said co-op students continually contribute at an above-average level, and the program does more than introduce high-potential talent for future employment opportunities.
“It also allows us to participate in the creation and development of the next generation of engineers and support professionals through our very successful partnership with the Clemson Co-op Advisory team,” she said. .
The growing impact of the program year after year is a remarkable feat for an initiative started when Richard Nixon was president. Eighty-four percent of co-op students surveyed who graduated in May 2022 had accepted full-time positions or had been accepted to graduate school prior to graduation. Within a month of graduation, that number jumped to 88%.
“We are part of a university that continues to place a high value on experiential learning,” Neal said. “For that, we are grateful.”