Outlook Magazine - Fall 2019


ob Dahlke, director of the Placement Office in 1982,

recalled being nervous as he prepared to convince the Chancellor’s Council to start a Cooperative Education program at UW-Stout. But the now-retired director of Career Services knew it was the type of program the founder of the university, Sen. James Huff Stout, would have favored with its hands-on approach to educating students for careers. “For many reasons, it seemed like a commonsense idea that reached its time to be born,” Dahlke said. After the Chancellor’s Council approved the request to write a five-year grant, the program started with eight students. Over the past 37 years, there have been nearly 22,500 co-op enrollments, 1,058 in 2017-18, supporting UW- Stout’s polytechnic designation by providing students with the opportunity to experience an active and applied focus on learning in their professional field. Students receive academic credit for paid positions related to their majors. All undergraduate and graduate majors offer Cooperative Education programs. It has grown to be one of the largest programs in the country and the largest in Wisconsin with about 578 employers providing job sites. “Companies were taking a risk hiring college graduates without experience,” said Dahlke, who retired in 1993. “Furthermore, companies were spending more time and resources on training programs.” In contrast, those studying to be teachers were required to take a semester as student teachers, proving they were ready and wanted to enter the field. “They were hiring a graduate who knew what they wanted to do,” Dahlke said. “They were a proven commodity.” “Students returning from co-op share their experiences with classmates and teachers, earn money to offset tuition, help to solidify their career choice, understand the value of work experience related to their majors and often lock up a job offer upon graduation,” Dahlke said.

Bryan Barts, director of Career Services (left), with Bob Dahlke, former director and the driving force behind the creation of UW-Stout’s co-op program.

That still rings true. Co-op students report feeling more confident in their professional abilities and gain an increased understanding of workplace expectations. “It’s a real experience that has value and meaning to a student and an employer,” said UW-Stout Director of Career Services Bryan Barts. “Students find value in what they are doing in their education and learn how it applies to their future.” Under the program, students must work in paid positions for a minimum of 320 hours per term. Many students choose to take part in more than one co-op. During 2017-18 the average hourly wage for co- op enrollments was $15.52. Achievement Award from CEIA, the Cooperative Education and Internship Association. Knudtson held a co-op from June to December 2017 at Johnsonville, the bratwurst and sausage company from Sheboygan Falls. The packaging major worked with Johnsonville’s packaging team, under the mentorship of several Stout packaging alumni. He began a full- time job in April at General Mills in the Twin Cities. Bethany Henthorn, Cooperative Education coordinator, said co-ops are a triple win — for employers, students and keeping the In April, December graduate Ryan Knudtson earned the National Cooperative Education Student

university on the pulse of industry needs. Industry and university relationships are built and strengthened, often resulting in financial and equipment support. “I always tell students the co-op program is our secret sauce,” Henthorn said “This is the experience that is going to make them highly employable. We want the co-op experience to springboard them into their professional careers.” In the university’s most recent Career Services annual report, 98.7% of UW- Stout graduates had jobs or were furthering their education within six months of leaving campus. Henthorn noted the co-op program helps support those outcomes. “When you have a UW-Stout graduate who has participated in co-op, they are ready to work,” she noted. Barts expects the program will expand. “I see it happening more as parents and students look for clear evidence of the value of higher education and how it translates and prepares graduates for the workplace,” he said. The Career Services office would like to thank and acknowledge the work and commitment by several individuals who have been instrumental in the program’s longevity and success, Dorothy Dale, Howard Slinden, Amy Lane, Jacquelyn Goodman and LaMont Meinen.


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