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Published: Sunday, 4/25/2010

University of Toledo Blade

Jonathan Cunningham will log countless miles between his home in Holland, Ohio, and Cleveland this summer for a job that comes with no paycheck, but you won't hear him complaining.

In fact, the senior at the University of Toledo looks forward to his first internship at the Cleveland Clinic, despite the hours of travel and financial hardship involved.

“I have friends who've graduated and didn't have a lot of experience in their fields. They've had a hard time getting jobs,” Cunningham, who majored in communications/public relations, said.

“I'm looking for this internship to reaffirm that I want to do this for a living, or to help me realize if I don't want to do it so I can take steps toward something else. Either way, it's a good learning experience.”

Cunningham will work 24 hours per week in the Corporate Communications department, learning the ropes of media relations and health care public relations. He'll stay in Cleveland three nights each week, alternately commuting home for a part-time job to help fund his internship.

In terms of preparing him for the competitive “real world” of job hunting, Cunningham said he's already learned practical lessons in resume writing and interviewing.

“I had to send a resume and writing samples before I had a phone interview,” he recalled. “Then came a personal interview, and I had to undergo a background check after I was hired.”

If he checked with fellow students in UT's College of Engineering, he'd find they're quite familiar with these procedures. Students seeking to earn Bachelor of Science degrees in engineering must complete at least three alternating semesters of cooperative education experiences as part of their curriculums. The students typically enter the program during their sophomore years. Many students find it so valuable they continue to work for the same companies beyond the required semesters.

"It's important to note that a co-op program is different from an internship, even though both programs are often mentioned in the same way," said Vickie Kuntz, director of UT's Engineering Career Management Center. "Cooperative education experiences require substantial commitments from all parties involved: students, employers, as well as our college, in order to create a truly integrative experience for our students. We're very proud and pleased to create such opportunities for our students. These opportunities are truly relevant to help our students become outstanding professionals."

The more than 1,100 employers in the U.S. who participate in UT's program appreciate its benefits. “Many of our students accept permanent placements with their co-op employers after graduation,” Kuntz said. “The employers know they have well-trained engineers who can hit the ground running.”

Tom Blaine, a UT College of Engineering alumnus and process engineer for Anderson Development Company in Adrian, Mich., has mentored five UT students.

“We put them to work right away, starting on technical background and product monitoring,” he said. “It's worked out very well.”

December 2009 College of Engineering graduate Jeremy Runk spent two rotations each with Sunoco, Inc. and Anderson, where he created a series of spreadsheets that track the performance of different processes and equipment.

“My co-op experiences allowed me to see some of the different engineering applications,” Runk, who recently landed an associate engineer position with Matrix Technologies in Maumee, said. “You learn how the industry works. It makes things less intimidating and you can adapt to the professional environment a little easier.

“Anderson was a different type of industry than Sunoco, so that was good, too. Being in those environments brought home what I was learning at UT and, sometimes, introduced me to things we didn't discuss in class.”

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