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Talk careers to me - RIT students learn it's also who you know

Manny Contomanolis
Manny Contomanolis, director of the Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services.
Enter RIT's co-operative education program. "The trend in industry is to identify good students earlier in their academic careers to be able to assess their capabilities and attract them after graduation," says Manny Contomanolis, director of RIT's Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services.

What is co-op? Simple definition: full-time, paid work experience that alternates with full-time study. While industry gets a heads up on potential employees through co-op, "The experience helps a student better understand what they are learning and planning to learn," says Contomanolis. Along with the aforementioned hands-on experience, co-op jobs help students make valuable employment connections, while paying them at a rate that recognizes their experience, he adds.

Michael Klayman
Michael Klayman in the lab. Co-op gave him confidence in his skills.
"Before co-op, I didn't know how useful I could be," says Michael Klayman. "I thought everything I knew was common knowledge." A 1999 graduate of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, Klayman spent the summer before his final year working for NASA-Lewis, near Cleveland. Through a summer of test firing rocket nozzles and then analyzing the results, Klayman found out that, "I know so much more than I gave myself credit for." Klayman landed an after-graduation job with an optics company in Long Island.

RIT's co-op program, founded in 1912, is one of the oldest, largest and most comprehensive programs in the country. Although many schools offer a smattering of unpaid internships and other volunteer-type programs, no institution in New York State, and few in the country, offer a program that matches RIT's in size and scope. About 1,300 employers hire RIT co-op students to fill more than 4,000 co-op positions across the country.

"It is part of our historical mission and identity," says Contomanolis. "It is a jewel in the crown of experiential learning."

Steve Rosadini
Steve Rosadini, with the printing press on board the Queen Elizabeth II. The world now seems a little less intimidating.

RIT's print program offers an undeniable jewel of a co-op program: students get a semester on board the Queen Elizabeth II, serving the print needs of a cruise liner. Steve Rosadini spent his 1998-1999 winter quarter on board, while the ship cruised from New York City to Hong Kong via daydream-worthy ports in South America, Tahiti, Australia and the Philippines. While students are on call seven days a week, ("24/7," is the way Rosadini puts it.) when they finish their assigned duties, they can act like a ship's passenger. Rosadini printed menus and flyers on a two-color press, then, among other activities, went deep sea fishing in Acapulco, played soccer in Australia and visited print shops in Hawaii. "All in all, I have a broader view of the whole world," he says. "I learned more about operating a press, more about people skills. I also saw slices of the real culture in many places and the poverty."

Of course, not all co-op programs are floating ones. Most are slightly less glamorous, but just as challenging as the one on the QE II. When psychology major Kelly Neriani went to Eastman Kodak Company for her co-op in the summer of 1998, she already knew she didn't want to be a therapist. A former mechanical engineering major, she wanted to use her math and science skills along with her psychology education. At Kodak, she completed a research project on a new product that Kodak hopes to develop. "My co-op there really helped me narrow down what I want to concentrate on," she says. "I have definitely decided to go into imaging science and the psychology of color." Neriani plans to enroll in RIT's graduate program in color science when she graduates in 2000.

Norma Moran
Norma Moran, in the Afterimage office at Visual Studies Workshop. Print is her medium.
Norma Moran used what she was learning in her professional and technical communication studies to work for Afterimage, a media-arts journal produced by Rochester's Visual Studies Workshop. "It was a perfect fit," says Moran, who is deaf. "I read books, wrote reviews, proofread, compiled a lot of information and researched grants. My supervisor knew some sign language, which helped us communicate more effectively."

Moran says she knows now that she wants to stay in the print medium when she graduates. " Afterimage is different from mainstream print--newspapers, magazines--but it definitely gave me a taste for it."

Charles Clemens
Charles Clemens with "toys" in the ESPN office in Manhattan. He enjoys new experiences, he says.

The television medium fascinates Charles Clemens. A marketing major, he co-oped this past summer for ESPN in Manhattan. "Oh, this is great," he said via long distance, after his first week on the job. "I was in Bristol, Connecticut, yesterday, watching the taping of the Sports Center program. These people are professionals." Although Clemens plans to become a lawyer, he sees the co-op experience as immensely valuable. "I get to try something new and challenging," he says. "It couldn't be better."

Not all co-op opportunities at RIT are, by strict definition, co-ops, says Contoman-olis. "Co-op is part of the RIT culture. There are also internships and a variety of other ways that students apply their learning in the workplace." For example, Preston Saunders, a graduate student in ceramics, spent five months last year in Japan studying with the famed ceramists Chozaemon Ohi and his son, Toshio. Via an Ohi-family-sponsored scholarship, Saunders lived on the family's estate, worked in their business three days a week and then studied with the Ohis as he created his own pieces. "My work really changed," he says. "The Ohis asked me to look around at nature, at the garden, rocks, earth. My work became larger; it took on more organic forms."

"Co-op is value added to RIT students' educations," Contomanolis says. Co-op is one of the top three reasons students offer when asked why they chose RIT. Most co-op students are hired more quickly upon graduation, he says. Their co-op employers hire almost half of them. Co-op students often receive higher starting salaries than other graduates do and they receive promotions more quickly.

Contomanolis adds: "After co-op, students have a whole new take on the world."

The co-op advantage: bennies from heaven
According to the Cooperative Education Network, a national consortium of colleges and universities, a co-op program benefits students because it: provides an opportunity to test classroom learning in the laboratory of the "real world"; helps to develop important professional skills; offers a sequence of career-related work experiences in a student's field of study; enables a student to see a more direct relationship between a college major and full-time employment; enables students to gain a clearer perspective of individual career objectives; provides a means of earning money to cover a significant portion of college expenses and affords opportunities for post-graduation employment or graduate school.
The network adds that co-op benefits employers because it is a proven, cost-effective method to meet both immediate and long-range human resource needs and fosters on-going, productive relations between the campus and employer communities.
--Whew! Sounds like a good deal for everyone.