Published: May 28, 2013

The ChBE co-op program is a professional development education program that allows undergraduate students to alternate professional work experiences with classroom coursework.  Students typically complete one year of work at their co-op company, either working continuously or alternating their work experience with academic terms.

We asked three co-op students to tell us what they did during their work sessions; what skills they gained; to which classes their work provided perspective; how work was different from school; if working multiple work sessions was beneficial; what general learning they gained; and their closing thoughts on co-ops.

John Thilenius - Chevron

CBEN junior John Thilenius (pictured right) is currently finishing up his co-op.

Duties: I worked on long-term projects but also had daily duties to keep the refinery running at its peak efficiency. Some of my projects included debottlenecking a side-cut, optimizing the stripping steam in the atmospheric column, building catalyst loading tools, and working on design projects for international clients. The most interesting thing I learned during my co-op was that how to build a model simulation of a desired refinery for a client through various programs, and use the simulation’s flows and parameters in order to size and design the heat exchangers, columns, and vessels. 

Skills gained: Effective collaboration. I also learned to model a refinery through various programs, and use a particular simulation’s flows and parameters in order to size and design the heat exchangers, columns, and vessels. Moreover, the co-op helped show me how the skills I learned in school were used and now I feel I get more out of my classes knowing what to focus on.

Class perspective: Working helped add a lot of perspective to my classes and in particular to heat transfer because knowing how to conserve energy efficiently and applying the right amount needed for various processes is crucial. I started my co-op before I took heat transfer and after working with heat exchangers, fins, and fans in the field, it made the class seem much more beneficial as well as easier. 

Work vs. school: When you’re done with work for the day the rest of the day is yours without the stress of tests of homework. You collaborate with many more people and the work you do has a tangible value. There is more of a constructive attitude where something you did might be used and critiqued for years to come.  

Multiple sessions: In each session I was able to get a very different perspective of the company and the work I did which I was then able to apply to whatever my current position was. For example, during my first session I worked in the refinery, and so when my second session came around and I started to work for the technology-marketing group TEMA, I was able to take my knowledge of how refineries operated and use that knowledge to help me design them and size the equipment.

General learning: Seeing people from so many different fields working together at Chevron, I really learned how general an engineering degree is. It showed me how crucial internships and co-ops in particular are because they introduce you to fields you are interested in early on. When finally looking for a job, companies can see you have the industry experience and are more familiar with the work.

Closing thoughts: The best part about the co-op program is by far the connections you make and the experience you gain whereas the worst part tends to be taking a break from school; however, it is completely worth it. I don’t believe co-ops are as desired as they should be. I feel so much more confident in my schooling and about my future and in my ability to perform well in the real world after doing a co-op. The positives far outweigh anything else and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering doing one.

Andy Willett - Sundrop Fuels, Inc.

CHEN sophomore Andy Willett began his co-op in January of this year.

Duties: A large portion of my co-op has been spent operating a gasification process. My company is also helping me to get a deeper experience by having me spend some time helping build or run other projects.

Skills gained: Acquiring an understanding of how a process is run effectively and how to use and collect data in an effective manner.

Class perspective: I started my co-op when I was a sophomore, so there are still many chemical engineering courses ahead of me that were a mystery to me before my co-op. I feel like now I have a general idea of what to expect when I get to classes like heat transfer and controls.

Work vs. school: In my first two years of school, I felt like I still didn't have a full understanding or what real life chemical engineers do. In my co-op I learned many of the roles that a chemical engineer can play from being an operator of a process to doing the modeling for a process. Moreover, in school you are always working with your peers, but in the workplace your coworkers are often older than you, more experienced, or both. This makes group dynamics at work different from those at school.

Multiple sessions: I am currently working my second consecutive session and I feel that my elongated time with my company has allowed me to bridge the gap between being a short-term intern and being an actual employee. Working for six months straight has allowed me to work on and operate larger projects that I would not likely have been able to tackle if I were around for one term.

General learning: It has been very interesting getting to see first-hand how much effort, thought, and hard work go in to developing a start-up company. Working in a smaller company, I have been able to see many aspects of the business, such as how to collect the necessary raw materials needed and how to turn those materials into the desired product.

Closing thoughts: I know that I am gaining very valuable experience that may set me apart in the hunt for that next internship or job; I also know it will take me some time to get reacquainted upon returning to school after such a long time away. A co-op allows you to take a step forward in your career and see what life would be like in that certain career path and then just as soon as you get a good picture of that field, you get to go back to school and decide if that is where you would like to return when you graduate.

Tyler Gleditsch - TDA Research, Inc.

Spring 2013 CHEN graduate Tyler Gleditsch completed a co-op after his sophomore year.

Duties: I operated bench scale testing apparatuses to characterize sorbent and catalyst properties.

Skills gained: Organization. Teamwork.  Public speaking.  Professionalism. I took the challenges of my co-op and was able to broaden my understanding / implementation of a problem’s solution. I was also able to develop career goals for my next position.

Class perspective: Controls. I basically tuned PID controllers in my co-op and so this material was very interesting to me.

Work vs. school: Work is a place where problems are solved over months and months, while in school you might have 2.5 hours for a final exam.  In a workplace, getting the job done correctly is most important; at school, getting the answer fast is important. Work also gives you a better idea of how different types of engineers work together in different roles.

Multiple sessions: Co-ops are awarded more responsibility and more time-consuming problems.

General learning: Research requires a lot of time, effort, money, and the principal investigator is not guaranteed success.

Closing thoughts: I felt that as a student I wasn’t aware of what a chemical engineer’s job was like until my senior year.  It’s too bad that more students don’t get this kind of opportunity.

We welcome new co-op opportunities for our students. If your company is interested in participating in the co-op program, please email our ChBE Co-op Coordinator.