The Many Faces of Co-op
by Mariianne Mays Wiebe
originally published in The Bulletin - 24 March 2011

Like many other university students, Mike Strick had no professional experience when he entered the Department of Computer Science Co-op Program for a work-placement in the second year of his program.  In fact, a year earlier, he’d never taken any computer science, and didn’t feel his writing or presentation skills were very strong at all.  Originally from a rural community, he was living in residence and had decided to specialize in computer science.   Flash forward to now, and Mike has a good reason to be feeling more confident: he just won U of M’s Co-operative Education Student Champion Award.

Over the past year, the co-operative education coordinators of the University of Manitoba worked to establish an award to recognize students who demonstrate personal and professional development through their participation in a cooperative education option. Senate recently approved their proposal.

Strick was presented the award as part of the university’s celebration of National Co-operative Education Week from March 21 to 25.

With over 80,000 co-op students nationally, co-operative education has been working in Canada for well over 50 years with no sign of slowing down. The many co-operative education programs at the University of Manitoba provide students and employers with an opportunity to work together in a meaningful partnership. There are co-op programs in departments from the faculties of Agricultural and Food Sciences, Arts, Engineering, Science, the Asper School of Business and the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources.

Co-op programs allow students to combine practical paid work experiences with their classroom-based education.  Employers benefit through the connection with motivated, pre-selected students and an added benefit of increasing the flexibility of recruitment strategies.

The Asper co-op program is theuniversity’s newest entry, while U of M’s computer science co-op program is the university’s longest-running, since the early eighties. The runner-up for this year’s award is Matt Younger from Asper’s co-operative education program.

Younger is a fourth year Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) student who worked as a junior financial analyst at Wellington West Holdings Inc. He maintains that the co-op program helped him to take a more pro-active approach to both his career and his education.

The co-op program also allows students to build their skills within a supportive environment.  Perhaps in part because it has been around for so long, there is a culture of support within the computer science co-op program, says Gerri Acorn, the program coordinator. “We encourage relationships and peer support, which, in turn, creates a culture of support within each group of students.”

She calls Strick a particularly strong ambassador for the program. He spent two terms developing his skills in a real work environment, and now he tells other students about the program and is involved with it in other ways as well as being a volunteer.

Letters of recommendation for the award from his employer and from Acorn describe Strick as “key contributor” in the workplace and as “very professional.”  It was the combination of his technical, personal and business skills that earned him the student champion billing.

As for Strick himself, he is quite modest about his win. He says he feels like there are a lot of great students in the co-op program who could have received the award.

“It is an honor to win this award and to be recognized. You help out whenever you can and don’t expect to get recognition — so when you get do it is really nice. The Computer Science Co-op Education Program was great experience for me. I learned so much in the short time I was working.”

The University of Manitoba Cooperative Education Award included one student champion and one honourable mention. Both students received a Certificate of Merit in recognition of their win.

Co-op programs at the U of M are all housed in their individual departments.  For more information visit the Cooperative Education Website

Mike Strick
Winner of th U of M Co-op Student Award

Computer Science Announcement