The Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning Office at Wichita State University had a landmark year in 2006-2007, increasing the number of student placements to 1,371, its highest ever.
WSU’s College of Engineering co-op program – through its relationship with NASA – is a big reason for that growth.
Dozens of students have received co-op positions and internships with NASA. And it’s all thanks to WSU’s co-op program, which is helping students discover new ways to enhance their education by getting real-life work experience with one of the most prestigious federal agencies in America.
It worked for Alexandros Kanelakos, who graduated from WSU in May 2007 and is now working in the extravehicular activity task group at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Carr said WSU’s program is unique because he and other co-op coordinators work at placing students from each department in co-op and internship positions. That doesn’t happen, he said, at every university.
“Often students are left to find these positions themselves,” he said.
Carr said co-ops and internships are NASA’s best way of recruiting future employees. That, he said, in turn becomes a good recruiting tool for WSU’s College of Engineering.
“I think it’s an extremely important marketing tool for the university,” he said. “We have a track record of helping students get there.”
‘Something everyone should do’
Kanelakos, who completed five semesters of cooperative education at NASA while attending WSU, said one of the main reasons he came to WSU from Topeka was because of its co-op partnership with NASA.
“When I went to Wichita State … I was told to work hard and that I’d get to work at NASA,” he said. “I think they really came through on their word.”
Kanelakos also said he felt that WSU staff took a special interest in him and his career ambitions.
“It was the personal touch and interest in me as an individual that really attracted me to Wichita State,” he said.
Kanelakos said he was lucky, though, to get an internship at NASA on his first try. It isn’t usually so easy. Carr said he works with 10 to 15 students a year who want to apply. Most, though, don’t actually get in, at least not on the first try.
That was Luke Staab’s experience. He wasn’t accepted the first time he applied at NASA, so he took a job working at Hawker Beechcraft, meanwhile taking a full load as a student. After his second application, he was accepted.
“A lot of times I’ll tell students even if you don’t get hired through your first application, next year let’s apply again,” Carr said.
And once you get that far?
“Fairly often, once you get that internship or co-op position, you get hired full-time if that’s the path you want to take,” Carr said.
Anne Roemer, who heads the Cooperative Education Program at Johnson Space Center, agreed that students who take those positions often have a bright future ahead of them.
“We’ve had multiple WSU students who have co-oped and gone on to get full-time job offers,” she said.
Another student, Kimber Lemon, went through a 10-week internship with NASA, where she worked on a research project for navigation systems that will be used the next time astronauts land on the moon. She said she learned a lot about what it takes to work there and encourages other students to pursue internships as well.
“They (the co-op office) helped me with everything I needed,” she said. “I had never really planned to do an internship. But once I’d done it, I think it’s something everyone should do.”
NASA offers a co-op position and an internship position. Carr said the co-op position is more sought after because it gives students the option of working there for a total of three semesters.
“It gives the students a wide array of exposure to NASA,” he said.
Some students, however, can’t commit to three semesters and therefore prefer an internship, which also provides an invaluable experience.
For Kanelakos, the process was all worth it.
“Ever since I was very young I wanted to work here,” he said. “NASA was really kind of a career lifetime goal.”