Preparing Students for Professional Work Environments Through University- Industry Partnerships: A Single Case Study of the Co-op Development Program
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Collaborations to produce innovative models that link postsecondary education to workforce development initiatives have increased as multiple stakeholders respond to the call to develop a diverse, well-prepared STEM workforce. University and industry stakeholders in engineering agree that collaborating to share expertise and implement programs that aim to support the school-to-workforce transition for engineering graduates is critical. However, in light of existing efforts, a more nuanced view of university-industry partnerships from the student participant perspective is needed to provide data to engineering educators and professionals to support effective partnership design and use of resources. The purpose of this qualitative single case study was to understand how experiences in the Co-op Development Program (CDP) influence student participants’ subsequent career decision-making with respect to pursuing engineering industry positions. Guided by Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), this study examined the role that cooperative education experiences have on how students view and act on the potential employment opportunities that university and industry partners anticipate. Semi-structured interviews with eight former CDP participants, employed in industry at the time of the study, served as the primary data source. Additionally, program related documents, a profile questionnaire, and a conference proceeding were utilized to provide in-depth context of the CDP. Results indicate that all participants voiced a desire to work in the aerospace industry to explore short-term interests or to accomplish longer-term career entry goals. Furthermore, participants most frequently discussed experiences that required them to employ a sense of selfagency to complete work tasks (e.g., guiding themselves through uncertainty, observations of the environments, and interactions with engineering professionals) as learning experiences. Finally, participants primarily connected their learning experiences to their beliefs about what work looks like as a full-time engineer, their abilities to perform in an engineering role, and perceptions of fit across different engineering roles and workplaces. Major contributions of this study include extending the analytic generalizability of Social Cognitive Career Theory, creating operationalized definitions of learning experiences, and linking those experiences to students’ beliefs of the engineering industry pathway
General Audience Abstract
Persistent calls to the field of engineering education to help develop diverse, well-prepared engineers for the STEM workforce have fostered collaborations across university and industry stakeholders. As stakeholders focus efforts on supporting student persistence at several critical junctures, there has been a renewed interest in supporting the school-to-workforce transition for engineering graduates. With calls to develop a more tech-savvy workforce, innovative approaches to supporting and preparing students to enter the workforce have become even more necessary; thus it is important to understand how university-industry partnerships generate experiences that contribute to students' eventual workforce entry. The structure of the Co-op Development Program and the perspective of eight former CDP participants addressed how learning experiences shaped the career decisions of engineering participants immediately following graduation. A qualitative single case study approach was used and Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) guided the study. Major contributions of this study include extending the analytic generalizability of Social Cognitive Career Theory, creating operationalized definitions of learning experiences embedded within that framework, and linking those experiences to how students' beliefs were shaped on their pathway to an early career within engineering industry. The themes identified in this study can help CDP managers and university stakeholders better support co-op participants and potentially allocate resources that will serve as the basis for future co-op design recommendations. Stakeholders may also use findings to promote the role of university and industry partnerships in supporting the student workforce transition. Future researchers may extend the study design across multiple cases and leverage recommendations for qualitative and quantitative investigations to address some of the limitations embedded within this research design and further contribute to the discussion of preparing students for professional work environments through university-industry partnerships. Ultimately, findings of this study give voice to the student partner in university-industry partnerships as themes identified in this study help CDP managers and university stakeholders to establish interventions and serve as the basis for future co-op design recommendations.
- Doctoral Dissertations