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Preliminary Findings From A Quantitative Study: What Are Students Learning During Cooperative Education Experiences?

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Issues of Cooperative Education I

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.993.1 - 13.993.13



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Paper Authors


Olga Pierrakos James Madison University

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OLGA PIERRAKOS is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at James Madison University. Dr. Pierrakos holds a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her research interests are cardiovascular fluid mechanics and engineering education research, which includes engineering assessment, undergraduate research, design education methodologies, epistemologies of interdisciplinary education, and K-12 engineering education.

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Maura Borrego Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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MAURA BORREGO is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and engineering education, including studies of the collaborative relationships between engineers and education researchers. Investigations of interdisciplinary graduate programs nationwide are funded through her NSF CAREER award.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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JENNY LO is an advanced instructor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Lo is the co-coodinator of the first semester engineering course at Virginia Tech, and her research interests include undergraduate research, curriculum development and engineering ethics instruction.

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Preliminary Findings from a Quantitative Study: What are Students Learning During Cooperative Education Experiences? Abstract

Since most of our engineering students follow careers in industry, of particular importance is how cooperative experiences help to make better engineers. Although cooperative experiences are well-known to have many benefits to students and employers as well as have great potential for bringing active learning to the undergraduate level, there is limited empirical evidence of students’ learning outcomes as a result of these experiences. Preliminary findings from a validated survey instrument, National Engineering Students’ Learning Outcomes Survey (NESLOS), derived from ABET criteria, are presented. Key findings of what students learned and valued, insight into variations across female and male students, and student career path goals are presented. These findings can aid engineering departments, cooperative education professionals, career service offices at institutions, and industry representatives to improve co-op experiences and assessment efforts.


Undergraduate engineering students who participate in cooperative (co-op) experiences can benefit greatly from their industrial work experience. Co-ops not only provide a meaningful experience for engineering students, but also create an opportunity for them to begin the process of workplace adaptation. Participation in co-op experiences also deepens a student’s understanding of the profession and promotes the communication and teamwork needed to solve complex problems. Other well-known benefits of co-op students include: (a) gaining real-world experience in an engineering professional environment, (b) having the opportunity to apply skills and knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world problems, (c) working with state-of-the-art processes, equipment, and tools, (d) learning how to work in teams in a professional atmosphere and adapt to different employment situations, (e) developing self-confidence and a positive attitude about future career options, and (f) improving their opportunities for post-graduation jobs. The success that cooperative education has enjoyed over many years indicates that employers can also benefit from the arrangement by hiring high-performance individuals.

Although some studies have looked into the overall positive impact (such as earnings and grade point average) of co-op experiences 1-2, the bodies-of-knowledge and learning outcomes comprising the countless ways in which students benefit from being involved in cooperative education have been insufficient and understudied. Another set of problems involves perceptions of the field and its marginalization, because of its "vocational" association, portraying co-op experiences as not always academically legitimate. Rather, it is often viewed as taking time away from the classroom 3. So, despite the current emphasis on contextual learning, co-op experiences are not always recognized as a vehicle for learning.

Since engineering disciplines are so closely aligned with industry as a customer for our graduates, engineering educators are ideally positioned to lead contributions to the assessment of cooperative education literature. ABET accreditation criteria provide the link between industry needs, learning outcomes, and legitimate academic faculty scholarship 4-5. It is time for

Pierrakos, O., & Borrego, M., & Lo, J. (2008, June), Preliminary Findings From A Quantitative Study: What Are Students Learning During Cooperative Education Experiences? Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3517

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015