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Understanding Cooperative Education And Internships: The Influence On Engineering Students’ Problem Solving Skills

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

The Influence of Cooperative Education

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1296.1 - 15.1296.12



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Paper Authors


Alexander Yin Pennsylvania State University

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Alexander C. Yin recently completed his PhD. in Higher Education and the Master's in Applied Statistics at Penn State with a minor in Educational Psychology. Prior to his graduate studies at Penn State, Alex earned his B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology

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Understanding Cooperative Education and Internships: The Influence on Engineering Students’ Problem Solving Skills Abstract

Cooperative education is a form of experiential education that allows students to gain experience in their profession. This quantitative study will utilize a national dataset to examine the influence of cooperative education on engineering students’ perception of their engineering thinking skills. The objective of this study is to answer the following question: 1) does experience in cooperative education or internship program influences students' self-perceptions of their engineering problem-solving skills? The statistical models controlled for academic ability, social economic status, engineering discipline, time spent in a design competition, urbanization of an institution, and institution’s highest degree awarded.

The analysis from a national dataset of 2004 seniors (n=4461 from 39 institutions) suggests that students who spent more time in a cooperative education program are better at ensuring that a process or product meets a variety of technical and practical criteria and comparing and judging alternative outcomes than students who have little or no experience in a co-op.


The National Academy of Engineering i, ii is concerned with both the pipeline of engineering students and the characteristics needed by the successful engineer of the future. According to the NAE report, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, these characteristics include strong analytical skills; practical ingenuity; creativity; communication skills; principles of business and management; leadership; high ethical standards; professionalism; dynamism; agility; resilience; flexibility; and life-long learning. The report illustrates the engineering community’s commitment not only to increase the number of engineering graduates, but also to graduate competent engineers who will succeed in the global economy of 2020. The urgency to prepare the Engineer of 2020 has been a community effort as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has shifted its accreditation criterion from institutional resources (e.g., faculty credentials and library size) to student learning outcomesiii. Many of the Engineer of 2020 skills align with ABET’s criteria for student learning outcomesiv.

The emphasis on technical knowledge and professional skills such as teamwork and communication in the Engineer of 2020 learning outcomes and ABET criteria suggest that learning experiences which stress these kinds of activities will be more effective for developing the necessary engineering workforce. Cooperative education (co-op) or internship programs provide off-campus work experiences that engage students in solving authentic engineering problems that elucidate textbook problems seen in the classroom. For example, if a textbook chapter focuses on electromagnetic fields, the problem sets from that chapter will deal with this topic (and not some other engineering topic such as optics). The problem’s scope (i.e., the issue is related to electromagnetic fields) is defined for the student. Thus, in working textbook problems, students may not develop the flexibility in problem identification to solve real-world

Yin, A. (2010, June), Understanding Cooperative Education And Internships: The Influence On Engineering Students’ Problem Solving Skills Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15670

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