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The Role and Impact of Engineering Co-op

The engineering programs at GVSU were developed at the urging of the industrial community in west Michigan as a partnership between the university and our industry partners.  Based upon the insight of both the faculty and industry professionals, cooperative education was designed into the engineering programs as a fundamental element.  The intention at the time was to provide uniquely mature graduates who had both the traditional elements of an engineering education and industry based professional experience that would allow them to enter their careers as fully prepared professionals immediately upon graduation.

This vision has certainly been accomplished – but the co-op program has produced additional impacts well beyond what could have been anticipated.  These benefits have included those within the academic experience as well as those that have contributed to an even richer relationship with the employer community and the west Michigan community.

Within the academic programs, the most notable elements to evolve from the co-op program are the changes to the upper level experience in terms of course maturity.  Because all of our students have “real-world” experience that we can depend upon, the faculty are able to shape our courses to include more real world constraints, project based work, and industry standard practices.  As an example, several years ago, this allowed our capstone project to evolve into an interdisciplinary, industry based program in which students take on problems posed by industry.  Each industry sponsor acts as the client and participates in all elements of the design, fabrication, testing and approval of industry caliber products, automation systems, etc. This is a uniquely mature and award winning program.

Beyond the curricular elements, the co-op program is a keystone to our relationship with the industrial community.  In addition to an on-site work supervisor, every student has a faculty advisor during his or her co-op semesters.  The faculty oversees the academic component of the student co-op semester including on-line modules and journaling by the students.  They also do site visits to every location every semester.  This provides us with an opportunity for continuous interaction with our employer partners.  The feedback we receive from our co-op students and supervisors has been a long-standing and fundamental element of our continuous improvement, assessment and accreditation processes.

Due in large part to the co-op program, the GVSU engineering programs are unique in that they built upon and continue to thrive through our continuous conversation with our employers and the broader community.  The partnership truly lives on.

Paul D. Plotkowski
Dean, Padnos College of Engineering and Computing


  • Integrated for all students within the four-year program
  • Full year of work experience prior to graduation
  • Students average more than $30,000 in earnings over the three co-op terms
  • Creates a foundation for career placement
  • Local, national, and international placement options
  • Industry driven course and capstone projects


  • A source for a talented and diverse workforce
  • An essential resource for generation of new concepts and fresh ideas
  • A focused resource for projects and valuable productive work
  • A rich source of technical talent for the future

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History of the Engineering Cooperative Education Program

Prior to 1986     

  • “2 + 2” “Engineering” program in Physics department within the College of Math and Science Division

Established 1986       

  • Dr. Hal Larson “father of Engineering/Co-op” in Physics department
  • Director of Engineering Co-op position established in the Career Services Office
  • Tom Sekoryra appointed as Career Services Director of Engineering Co-op
  • In partnership with industry leaders, James R. Sebastian, Sr., founder of
    Rapistan, leads development of Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) with integrated, mandatory co-op experience


  • First co-op during summer of 1986
  • First year of site visits with employer feedback


  • Engineering school separates from Physics department
  • Engineering moves into the Eberhard Center


  • Dr. Shirley Fleischmann begins as Engineering Co-op Faculty lead           
  • Co-op Employer Manual created
  • Formal educational requirements added for co-op
  • Initial ABET Accreditation of B.S.E. as nontraditional program with Electrical and Mechanical emphases


  • Dr. Hal Larson appointed as acting Director of School of Engineering


  • Dr. Paul Plotkowski begins as Director of School of Engineering


  • Co-op prep course EGR 289 added


  • Luis Otero appointed as Career Services Director of Engineering Co-op
  • Added Manufacturing emphasis, which became accredited in 1998 and revised to be Product Design and Manufacturing in 2004


  • Chris Plouff appointed as Career Services Director of Engineering Co-op


  • Master of Science in Engineering program introduced
  • Added Computer emphasis
  • First out-of-state co-op placement


  • Keller Engineering Laboratories Building Opens


  • First international co-op placement


  • Interdisciplinary emphasis added                            


  • Tom Demmon appointed as Career Services Director of Engineering Co-op
  • Divisional reorganization with Dr. Plotkowski promoted to Dean of new Padnos College of Engineering & Computing


  • Engineering expands into the new Kennedy Hall of Engineering
  • Dr. Charlie Standridge appointed as acting Director of School of Engineering


  • The James R. Sebastian Endowed Chair in Engineering Cooperative Education and Educational Development is created


  • Bio-Engineering minor added
  • Dr. Toma Hentea appointed as Director of School of Engineering


  • Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering added


  • Padnos College of Engineering and Computing named “Exemplar of Real World Engineering Education” by the National Academy of Engineering
  • First Industry Sponsored Graduate Fellow


  • Padnos College of Engineering and Computing recognized for best practices in student retention and success by the American Society for Engineering Education

Page last modified April 11, 2022