Asee peer logo

The Effect of Cooperative Education on Retention of Engineering Students & the Transition to Full-Time Employment

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

CEED Paper Session 1: Using Co-Op and Internships to Improve Diversity, Retention, Learning, and Assessment

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Katelyn Elizabeth Gunderson Rochester Institute of Technology

visit author page

Katelyn Gunderson received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY. She has a background in aerospace engineering, having completed numerous cooperative education assignments spanning both industry and government organizations. Work assignments have included several with GE Aviation and NASA's Johnson Space Center as well as an internship with the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Katelyn will begin graduate studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology with an emphasis on composite materials for aerospace applications during the Fall 2016 term. She is also interested in increasing female participation in engineering.

visit author page


Margaret B. Bailey P.E. Rochester Institute of Technology

visit author page

Professor Margaret Bailey, Ph.D., P.E. is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering within the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology. Dr. Bailey teaches courses and conducts research related to Thermodynamics, engineering and public policy, engineering education, and gender in engineering and science. She is the co-author on an engineering textbook, Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, which is used worldwide in over 250 institutions. Dr. Bailey is the Principal Investigator (PI) for the RIT NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant. The goal of this large-scale ($3.4M), multi-year university-level organizational transformation effort is to increase the representation and advancement of women STEM faculty. At the university level, she serves as Senior Faculty Associate to the Provost for ADVANCE and co-chairs the President’s Commission on Women.

visit author page


Joseph A. Raelin Northeastern University

visit author page

Joe Raelin is an internationally recognized scholar in the fields of work-based learning and leadership. He holds the Asa S. Knowles Chair of Practice-Oriented Education at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston, where is he also a professor of management and organization development.

visit author page

author page

Jamie Ladge


Robert Garrick Rochester Institute of Technology

visit author page

Robert D. Garrick, Ph.D., P.E., is a Professor in the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Associate Department Chair. Garrick worked for 25 years in automotive engineering research and holds seven U.S. patents.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This study expands on the findings from an NSF (GSE XXXXXXX) funded study entitled “Pathways to Self-Efficacy and Retention of Women in Undergraduate Engineering” which investigated reasons for low representation and retention of women in STEM fields. In this paper, we report on qualitative analysis from a recent pilot study involving in-depth interviews from five engineering students in their final academic year of study and a set of five engineers interviewed within eighteen months of commencing their first full-time job in an engineering career field. All subjects previously completed several terms of cooperative education (intensive work study) within the same agency.

Interestingly, all five of the newly hired engineers interviewed strongly believed that their cooperative education (co-op) experience had helped prepare them for full-time employment. Additionally, all strongly conceded that these experiences specifically helped ease the transition from student to professional. Although three out of five agreed that their college courses provided them with technical skills they could use in the engineering field, only two felt as though they had adequately developed the soft skills in college that they needed for full-time employment. Notably, all mentioned that their co-ops provided opportunities to meet and work with active role model(s) which aided in the development of self-confidence.

All five of the engineering students graduating within the next academic year who were interviewed mentioned that in general co-op at least partially hindered their academic performance. They cited a positive experience with employers and the knowledge that they had likely secured a full-time job upon graduation as the reason for a decrease in academic drive. Impressively, all five students stated that their co-op experiences increased their perceived level of ability to be successful in their work roles. It is worth noting that although it was not specifically asked of them, at least three of the ten interviewees mentioned the difficulty they experienced during the transition between co-op and school.

This paper will delve into the findings of this initial pilot study and will draw reasonable conclusions from the data. We also gathered information about which types of interview questions are helpful in gaining useful insights into how cooperative education impacts retention in undergraduate engineering programs and a student’s transition to full-time employment following graduation.

Gunderson, K. E., & Bailey, M. B., & Raelin, J. A., & Ladge, J., & Garrick, R. (2016, June), The Effect of Cooperative Education on Retention of Engineering Students & the Transition to Full-Time Employment Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26131

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: © 2016 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