Getting hands-on experience is an excellent way to learn about a topic, and being immersed in a working environment can provide new perspectives and greater understanding. This is what the North Carolina State University Cooperative Education Program is all about. The program affords students the opportunity to work directly with companies in their field for an extended period – much longer than a typical seasonal internship.
Through its motors and drives team, Advanced Energy has been involved in the co-op program for nearly two decades. The team takes on students from N.C. State to help in the motor lab, giving them the opportunity to gain real-world experience by working directly with the machines and equipment and interacting with customers. “It’s a great way for engineering students to get work experience that they can connect with the information they learn in the classroom,” noted Michael Lyda, motor lab coordinator and previous co-op student.
Co-ops generally spend three rotations at Advanced Energy. Each rotation is full-time and occurs during an academic semester or over the summer. So, a student could do a rotation in the lab in the fall, return to school to take classes in the spring, and then work as a co-op again in the summer. In total, the program typically takes a year or year and a half to accomplish, and when they leave, students receive a certificate of completion and hours that can be used toward a Professional Engineer’s license. With the heavy workload of the motor lab, there are usually two co-ops working during any given semester, but their arrival is staggered: when one student comes in for his or her first rotation, a more seasoned co-op can act as a mentor.
A benefit of the co-op program’s structure and timeframe is that companies can devote a significant amount of time to training early on. Given the motor lab’s steep learning curve, the first rotation is largely focused on shadowing more experienced co-ops or employees and going through standardized motor testing procedures to become more familiar with the lab. Once co-ops are settled, the bulk of the work they perform involves testing, maintaining and handling motors. Specifically, they will align motors to the dynamometer (a machine that provides a load or resistance to help measure a motor’s power output), disassemble motors to inspect their internal components, complete test data sheets, learn about electric motor standards and specifications, design custom testing apparatuses, and even use the forklift to transport equipment. “As a co-op you get to use the engineering mindset and problem solving skills to figure out how to make the technology work in a reliable and repeatable manner,” said Henry Sharpe, who is currently in his third and final rotation in the lab.
As co-ops progress and gain a greater understanding, they see more responsibility and independence. In their third rotation, they may have an opportunity to explore field work in Advanced Energy’s other markets, which exposes them to additional possibilities and potential career paths. For example, prior co-ops have assisted employees with energy assessments and solar photovoltaic system inspections.
Students who go through the co-op program are able to take the knowledge and experience they gain and apply them to a number of future careers. “The benefits are that students get real-world experience and exposure to a job in their field that they can build on,” said Matt Davey, motors and drives consultant and previous co-op. Co-ops that have come through Advanced Energy have gone on to work at companies including General Motors, John Deere, Schneider Electric, the Federal Aviation Administration, Citrix, and a Duke Energy nuclear power plant, among others. Some co-ops even return to work at Advanced Energy – two of the motor lab’s current employees started out in the co-op program.
N.C. State’s Cooperative Education Program is a win-win for all involved: the co-ops gain invaluable first-hand experience that they can take with them and use in the future, and the motors and drives team gets to mentor future generations of engineers while having additional support to promote and grow its work. Advanced Energy is proud to be involved and is very thankful for all of the work the co-ops do.