In the Globe & Mail newspaper, there is a short opinion article about the value of co-operative education (i.e. a structured mixing of academics and work experience). It’s written by one of our Systems Design Engineering graduates, Andrew D’Souza, who is now COO of the educational software company Top Hat (yet another Waterloo engineering student start-up).
Andrew’s points are similar to what Waterloo’s literature tries to get across, but he is much more blunt about it. For example, in the article he says:
If university degrees came with a 90-day refund policy, I think we’d see a lot of unemployed students waiting in the returns line. Co-op programs are as close to a “try before you buy” deal as we’ll see in higher education anytime soon.
He also explains how he started in university with some pre-conceived notions about a career path, and how these quickly changed once he saw what it was actually like during a co-op work term. Hence the “try before you buy” idea, and the remaining work terms are an opportunity to switch gears to alternative paths, as he explains. When I talk to our students, this is a fairly common point that comes up in one way or another.
It’s an interesting article from someone with first-hand experience and a few years after graduation to reflect back on how it helped shape his path.