Co-op Experience Starts with a Bang
When NC State Cooperative Education students leave campus to participate in work rotations, the experiences they receive truly runs the gamut. Senior textile engineering major Melanie Nixon's rotation with DuPont was no different, as she helped test bulletproof vest prototypes on the Richmond, Va., company's firing range.
"I would like to study protective garments after graduating from NC State, so during my first rotation with DuPont, I was immediately put into Life Protection," Nixon said. "Once you're in Life Protection, you either help create the bulletproof vests - which is where most of the engineers with PhDs and Masters degrees work, or on the ballistics range testing vests. It was a pretty cool experience."
Nixon's interest in Co-op began early in her college career. The Rocky Point, N.C., native knew she wanted to take part in some form of work experience while at NC State, she just didn't know if that would be as a part-time employee, a summer intern or as a Co-op participant.
"I went to the College of Textiles' Career Services to research internships, but I decided that I wanted to do something longer than the normal internship experience," she said. "I knew we had the Co-op program on campus, so I decided to attend an information session with them.
"I enjoyed the session so much that I decided to go to the College of Engineering Career Fair, where I met recruiters from DuPont," Nixon said. "I had a really great interview and shortly after, I got a callback that they wanted to see me in the fall."
Nixon worked at DuPont's technically sophisticated Front Royal site, working side-by-side on "real" projects with some of the company's full-time employees.
"Most of my colleagues are in their 30s and 40s, and at the beginning I was a bit worried that they wouldn't treat me as their colleague and someone they respect," Nixon said. "We definitely have a great working relationship and I can tell that they respect me - they give me work that is challenging and work that I can use on my resume."
"Whether I was working independently or within a group, I definitely had to manage my time wisely and make sure that my work was done correctly."
Between rotations and back on campus, Nixon has used those same skills to excel in the classroom.
"I think my first rotation helped me to realize that deadlines must always be on your mind and you must always accomplish smaller tasks to make sure that the bigger things are taken care of," she said. "Before I went to DuPont, I didn't always do things at the appropriate time and had to rush to complete projects."
"Now that I've been out in the field, I can use that same thought process in my classes – I have certain tasks that I need to complete and I am not as leery about when they are going to get done," Nixon said. "If I didn't have this experience, I think I would be at a huge disadvantage when it was time to enter the workplace after graduation."