As a college student, getting experience in the workforce can be a deciding factor in landing a job after graduating. Fortunately for NC State students, the Cooperative Education Program gives them exactly what they need to get ahead of the game. The co-op program is a type of job that students can apply for, and companies, such as Advanced Energy, can agree to hire them for three rotations. Each rotation is a semester long and separated by a semester at school. For example, a co-op might start their first job rotation in the summer, go back to school for the fall semester and then return to the job in the spring. This delays the co-op from graduating for a semester or two, but with a year of experience under their belt, it is well worth it.
Becoming eligible for a co-op is easy. All that is required is for the student to attend an info session and meet with the co-op coordinator who is assigned to them. From there, the student has several options to help find a position, whether it is through career fairs or by applying online through ePACK, NC State’s job-finding website. Applying for a co-op is the same as applying for any other job, where documents such as applications, resumes and cover letters are submitted. The only difference is that the company with the opening has an agreement with the program that certifies that they can offer a co-op job to NC State students.
Compared to a regular internship, the co-op program provides a much deeper and beneficial learning opportunity because there is more time spent working. Internships are usually more limited because there is less time on the job to allow for involvement in larger projects.
At Advanced Energy, co-ops in the motors and drives lab gain lots of valuable experience. They spend most of their time completing motor efficiency testing, with the most frequent test following the IEEE 112B polyphase induction motor test procedure.
When the average motor arrives for testing, the co-ops check it in and install a thermocouple to monitor its temperature. Next, they set up a test report spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and determine how the motor will be loaded. Larger motors are tested using an eddy current dynamometer with a load cell, while smaller motors are tested using a drive-controlled motor from Advanced Energy’s large inventory as a load source and a torque transducer to measure speed and torque. The motor shaft is then aligned with the test equipment, and the motor is secured to the test surface. Next, everything is wired up, and the load cell or torque transducer is calibrated. Finally, testing can begin.
Co-ops control the test using LabVIEW, a computer program that monitors and changes the testing parameters, and a Variac voltage regulator. Once testing is complete, the co-ops disassemble the setup and ship the motor back to the customer.
In addition to motor testing following a number of standards, co-ops learn to program variable frequency drives, operate a forklift, provide quality customer service during witness testing and use problem-solving skills to deal with nonstandard motors that require custom mounting or bring up other issues. During a co-op’s third rotation, the student often gets to explore Advanced Energy’s additional markets. For example, Charlie Phillips has been conducting market research to help Plug-in NC, Advanced Energy’s electric vehicle (EV) outreach and education program, with an EV fleet project. As someone interested in a career related to EVs, Charlie has been able to expand upon his knowledge and support the company in this new capacity.
Working as a co-op in the motors and drives lab at Advanced Energy prepares students for a multitude of jobs. Co-ops gain the most experience relevant to those related to motor design and power management but leave with a skillset useful for any engineering position. Because of this, previous co-ops have gone on to work for organizations such as General Motors, John Deere, Schneider Electric, the Federal Aviation Administration, Citrix, Duke Energy, NASA, Rivian, Tesla and others. A few co-ops have even continued to work at Advanced Energy. Beyond job readiness, co-ops also leave with a year’s worth of credit toward their professional engineer’s license.
Going through the co-op program was an incredible experience, and I was exposed to many interesting and useful engineering processes. The work at Advanced Energy is a mix of hands-on work and data analysis, which creates unique situations that have allowed my critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to grow tremendously. As much as I have appreciated the work, though, the best part is the environment. The people at Advanced Energy are always friendly and make working there enjoyable. I have enjoyed every day and have had many new experiences that have aided me in life and in classes. – Travis Kiser, Advanced Energy motor lab technician and former co-op student
Overall, the NC State Cooperative Education Program is a great opportunity for students to gain real-world experience and apply the knowledge obtained in the classroom. Everything from the processes and standards they practice to the people and contacts they meet can be used to help co-ops achieve their career goals.