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Head Start

High-impact learning experience puts engineering student ahead

If anyone is living proof that an Ohio Northern University education can get you ahead in life, it’s recent mechanical engineering graduate Joe Burnett.

Burnett’s decision to attend Ohio Northern has certainly paid off for him. After working as a co-op student at Procter & Gamble Co. in Lima, Ohio, he transitioned into a full-time management position there upon his graduation in May. When you ask him why he came out so far ahead, the answer is simple: high-impact learning.

High-impact learning is one of the hallmarks of an ONU education, and the T.J. Smull College of Engineering is no exception. At their core, the college’s academic programs are designed to provide students with several high-impact learning opportunities, including cooperative education (known as the co-op program) and internships.

The College of Engineering’s co-op program is a five-year academic track in which students complete summer and non-summer work during their third and fourth years, gaining one to one-and-a-half years of paid work experience before they graduate. The college’s internships are similar in nature but are completed exclusively in the summer, and although students do not receive academic credit for internships, most of them are paid positions.

In the College of Engineering, around 20 percent of students complete the co-op program, and 85 percent do at least one summer internship by the time they reach their senior year.

Recognizing the many benefits of internship and co-op work, Burnett decided to do both. During his sophomore year, he worked as a part-time intern at Accubuilt Inc. in Lima, Ohio, helping build automotive parts. Then, as part of the co-op program, he worked full-time for the Husky Lima Refinery for three semesters, maintaining his student status to keep his scholarships while simultaneously earning course credit. In addition, he completed another co-op at Richard Design Service out of Beaumont, Texas, and an internship at Jacobs Engineering in Raleigh, N.C.

Before he even walked for commencement, Burnett had almost three years of experience under his belt, as well as a secured full-time position, but what he came away with is much more than just lines on his résumé.

Burnett’s wealth of high-impact learning experience has allowed him to sort out several matters during college that students typically must grapple with after graduation. For any new college graduate looking to enter the workforce, the first order of business is to obtain a job, preferably one you enjoy. Burnett was able to check both off his list before graduating, without having to compromise.

Many new graduates must also face the challenge of having little to no choice but to take the first job offer they receive, but this was certainly not the case with Burnett.

“I got to be picky,” he says. “With the experience I had, I didn’t have to take my first job offer. I got to pick and choose and find a company that matched my moral values and what I wanted to be doing for the next 10 to 15 years.”

Also, thanks to his prior experience in industrial manufacturing, he already knew what he wanted to do and how it’s done. He didn’t have to guess, thus avoiding the predicament of being fixed in a job that didn’t meet his expectations.

But perhaps the ultimate reward high-impact learning yielded for Burnett was something worth its weight in gold – confidence.

If I’ve learned anything from my internships and my co-op experiences, it’s how to act, speak and listen in the workplace, and I think that sets me apart from other students,” he says. “It gives me the confidence to sell myself as a professional and understand what a company would want from me and what I would want from a company.

And that is just what he did. He first encountered P&G during one of ONU’s on-campus career fairs, landing an initial interview as a result. After a multiple-step hiring process, he secured his future position last fall. 

“It’s a big stress relief to have accepted a job in October and be hired in May,” he says. “When you’re starting out in an above-average job right out of college, you’re definitely at an advantage, and a lot of students wouldn’t get that unless they came to ONU.”

Burnett’s is just one of the many success stories that began with ONU. Within six months of graduation, 97 percent of the College of Engineering’s most recent graduating class either found employment or enrolled in graduate school.

All things considered, ONU is a perfect place to get your head start, and in the long run, it’s just the beginning.