Since 1957, co-operative education has been a cornerstone  of the University of Waterloo’s history. 

For Ingrid Roorda, Waterloo’s co-operative education program has been on her radar for more than four years. Now a 4B Mechanical Engineering student at Waterloo, Roorda considers the co-op program an essential part of her educational experience, citing the unique  opportunity  to travel and try out different careers as a way of helping her find what she is genuinely passionate about.  

While I knew I wanted to do a STEM degree at the University of Waterloo, I realized at the same time that I wanted to  work with my hands,” Roorda says. 

Roorda’s  craving for a hands-on experience was soon fulfilled through her first co-op experience at a creative technology studio based in Toronto. Hired initially as a creative technologist for wonderMakr, Roorda wore many hats  on a team of fewer than 15 people. 

One of Roorda’s  favourite aspects was just how much responsibility was given to her — from solo travelling or individual projects.  

wonderMakr put a lot of trust in me,” she says. “I travelled — often solo — to Quebec City, as well as Edmonton and around Toronto.” 

Attendance at big design expos, events at Yonge and Dundas square and a phone release party to run an installation were just some of the highlights of her experience. 

“Every day was different,” she adds. 

Roorda  credits her co-op experience for genuinely changing how she saw her future.  

“Before my internship at  wonderMakr, I wasn’t sure how well I fit into mechanical engineering,” she recalls. “At  wonderMakr,  I found I could be creative while still doing technical tasks. I felt a more human connection with my work. It heightened the independence and confidence I had in myself to take ownership of projects”.

Since then, Roorda has gone on to complete co-op work terms at startups in Munich, Berlin and San Francisco. 

Waterloo helps students find their niche

Student working on tech item

Start-ups give students valuable experience  

It’s no surprise that driven students like  Roorda  are drawn to startup companies such as  wonderMakr.  When working for these technology companies,  students are given the unique  opportunity to work closely in open-concept incubators, led by young, driven and passionate entrepreneurs.  

No  one  is more familiar with this than Jay Shah  (BASc11’), one  of  the first co-op students at  Clearpath  Robotics, a Waterloo startup that went on to be a hugely successful company. Shah’s early experience at  Clearpath  gave him the foundation and confidence to found  Bufferbox  in 2010, a startup that was acquired by Google in 2012. 

“Waterloo’s co-operative education program significantly enhances the output of Velocity and other entrepreneurship programs because our founders have real-world, lived experiences in the industry. They know what industry’s problems are and how the industry actually works,” he says. 

Shah was the Director of Waterloo’s Velocity program from 2016-2020, mentoring entrepreneurs and co-op students on the road to success. In this role, Shah saw first-hand the impact Waterloo co-ops can make to a business’ talent pool and bottom line. A recent study by Deloitte showed that for every $1 a business invests in a co-op student, there is a $2 economic gain.

Startups add connection

These budding businesses often embrace  an  “all-hands-on-deck”  approach, offering  workers the  chance  to  try various roles  within the team.  For  Computer Engineering alumnus  Alan Wang  (B.A.Sc. ’19),  the experience  was no different. 

Wang spent a co-op term working for  Evichat, a startup  that collects and manages  digital  evidence  for  officials working in  law. During his work term, Wang mobilized his interest in computer engineering in a completely new way.  As one of four team members,  Wang was  given  real-world  tasks to complete and developed  skills  that  he says  served him  well post-graduation. 

“The skills I gained there are necessary for anywhere,” Wang says.  “They  would say, okay, this is a feature we want you to build, and I would just have to do it.  It was fun  because  I was learning a lot of new  things,  but  it was definitely  challenging.”

During those  times, Wang says  he was supported by another  Waterloo alumnus  on the  team, Nilesh Pandey. Pandey is co-founder and chief technology officer at  Evichat.

Wang is grateful he was able to spend a co-op term at a smaller startup, as it helped him secure his current full-time position at, a young company based in Toronto. 

“Working at  Evichat  gave me the experience  to learn  how to  problem-solve  on my own,” Wang says.

With a 96 per cent employment rate  six months after graduation, it is clear that Waterloo prepares talent ready for the  rapidly  changing  industry and  work place  landscape.