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Career-focused education is in our DNA

January 8, 2016

As we return from winter break, many students will be returning from, or beginning their co-ops. With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on one of the “crown jewels” of an RIT degree: a career-focused, experiential learning opportunity for our students.

Career education and student success is a core dimension of the RIT strategic plan. From integrating experiential learning into all undergraduate majors, to increasing interdisciplinary program offerings, we have set ambitious goals for the next decade.

If you look at the university as a whole, career education is in our institutional DNA. The co-op program, started more than 100 years ago, is an exemplar of that focus. While many universities are struggling to meet enrollment goals, RIT is able to be ever more selective in our incoming student body because of the return on investment that we provide to graduates.

The first and most important part of the co-op or internship experience is the impact on the individual student, which is reflected in our high placement rate after graduation. Career experiences provide our students not only with critical professional qualifications and credibility, but entirely new learning opportunities that a traditional university couldn’t provide, including leadership, teamwork, collaboration, technical communication. We talk about the “T shaped” skills that are critical for our graduates because they form a critical part of higher learning, and one that’s often over-looked at other universities.

An additional benefit to students and faculty is that the co-op program keeps our culture and our curriculum current. Our students are able to provide an outside perspective once they’ve completed a co-op and as a result, faculty are able to stay on top of current trends and use this information to implement a higher-quality learning experience for all students. It contributes to a cycle of continuous improvement.

Key to these experiences is forming industry partnerships. These relationships not only fuel our co-op opportunities but also provide additional on-campus opportunities for our students. For example, when Toyota sees the value of our co-op programs, they become more inclined to support resources like the Toyota Production Systems lab to provide students with critical skills before they leave RIT.  You can’t underestimate the power of these relationships.

This positive reputation and success of this program is the result of a large-scale team effort. The staff and leadership within the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education is enthusiastic and committed to building partnerships, as is each of the deans. Department chairs, faculty and staff within the colleges share this philosophy and embrace the value of this enterprise.

I appreciate the efforts and engagement of everyone involved in this vital endeavor and look forward to the growth and future of experiential learning at RIT.