Preparing Students for Professional Work Environments Through University- Industry Partnerships: A Single Case Study of the Co-op Development Program

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

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

Cooperative Education, University Industry Partnerships, Engineering, Case Study, Social Cognitive Career Theory, Career Decision-Making