Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) and Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) partner in piloting new graduate co-op opportunities

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Group of students seated at a table talking and reading

Innovative student support model is a key differentiator for enhanced work-integrated learning.

By: Matthew King (he/him)

More than 65 years ago, the University of Waterloo pioneered co-operative education for undergraduate students in Canada. Today, Waterloo is home to the largest co-op program at a research university. Through an innovative partnership, the University continues to level up on work-integrated learning (WIL) with new and enhanced graduate work-integrated learning (GradWIL) opportunities, providing different paths for graduate students to engage in WIL and develop their career.

CEEGSPA and Waterloo’s faculties have partnered to offer GradWIL pilots. Co-op is just one of several models of GradWIL pilots taking place around campus right now. There are currently two types of graduate co-op programs happening on campus — those administered by the academic unit and those supported by CEE.

The pilot programs currently supported by CEE include:

  • Engineering – Master of Management Sciences (MMSc)
  • Engineering – Master of Engineering (MEng) in Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mathematics – Master of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (MDSAI)

open quotation marksCo-op pilots at the graduate level extend the runway for students to prepare and enhance their work-integrated learning experience. We're adding interventions from day one and we're becoming a part of the student’s journey.

Zac Mercer

- Zac Mercer, faculty relations manager, GradWIL

Co-op enhancement pilot

The goal of the co-op enhancement pilot is to create and test a new graduate support model. Graduate co-op programs often only have one co-op work term compared to four or five that take place in the undergraduate offerings.

The new support model for graduate students starts in the term before they begin applying for jobs, called the pre-recruitment term, and includes three different forms of intervention for student support through their graduate co-op journey:

1. New graduate WIL 601 pre-recruitment term course

  • asynchronous offering to students
  • developed with industry partner involvement
  • replaces co-op 601 offering
  • first pilot is winter 2024

2. One-to-one coaching in the pre-recruitment term

  • begins the term before a student starts applying for co-op jobs and continues throughout their co-op journey
  • students have the same support person throughout
  • emphasis on relationship-building and familiarity

3. Weekly peer-to-peer support sessions

  • optional, themed, virtual synchronous sessions
  • students who attended the peer-to-peer sessions in the fall saw a 43 per cent increase, on average, in the confidence, comfort or knowledge of the topic discussed​​​​ 

“Early engagement in career support with these students will hopefully lead to improved employment outcomes,” says Zac Mercer, the faculty relations manager for GradWIL. “We want students to set and achieve their co-op goals. Perhaps more importantly than securing ‘the job’, we want them to feel supported through their WIL experience.”

This feeling is reflected in the feedback received thus far from students. Approximately 83 per cent of students have reported that they are somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the co-op work term quality of support available to them through their faculty relations manager.

Students embrace the enhanced support model

Sai Krishna Sandeep Manapragada is an Electrical and Computer Engineering international student. Manapragada found it difficult to transition back to school after working in industry and leaned on the enhanced student support model after he arrived in Canada last January.

“I made the decision to drop co-op 601 in my first term and I did co-op 601 in the second term. But that was not helpful at all because I wasn’t prepared for the co-op process and applying for jobs,” says Manapragada.

open quotation marksThe peer-to-peer support was a great opportunity to connect with others and discuss the various weekly themes to help me feel more comfortable in my job search. I made 100 per cent utilization of that - they helped me a lot.

Sai Krishna Sandeep Manapragada


- Sai Krishna Sandeep Manapragada, Electrical and Computer Engineering 

Manapragada is currently in the middle of an eight-month work term as a process engineer at Mitsubishi Chemical Group. He credits his position to the support he received during the pre-recruitment and recruitment terms.

“I was able to connect with Zac and he helped me formulate my résumé and suggested changes. The peer-to-peer sessions even gave me helpful tips,” says Manapragada. “Zac played a major role in my ability to secure my co-op position.”

Students receive valuable advice and unprecedented support

Vinamra Singh is an Electrical and Computer Engineering international student who is taking part in the co-op enhancement pilot. Like Manapragada, Singh also secured an eight-month work term. Singh is working as a Data Science intern with Northbridge Insurance.

“My position is directly aligned with what I want to pursue in my career,” says Singh. “Zac gave me some great advice throughout the process, reassuring me the right position would come up and this position ended up being a perfect co-op job. It’s the best support I’ve received in Canada.”

By taking part in the co-op enhancement pilot, Singh has received one-on-one support from Mercer, participated in multiple peer-to-peer sessions learning from other students’ experiences and made connections between how classroom learnings integrate with his work experience. 

open quotation marksMy co-op journey gives a holistic picture of my master’s experience. I have completed a good amount of study, but now I have the work experience as well. It really adds to my merit.

Vinamra Singh


- Vinamra Singh, Electrical and Computer Engineering 

The GradWIL team analyzes the feedback from co-op experience surveys on a term-by-term basis and uses that data to inform the decisions moving forward. For now, the co-op pilot work terms will continue into the fall term of 2024.