March is Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada National Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) month. As an opportunity to celebrate and generate awareness of co-op and other WIL programs across Canada, the Work-Learn Institute (WxL) is reflecting on the contributions co-op students have made to the Work-Learn team and WIL research.
WxL hires 1-2 co-op students each term as research assistants who help in all stages in the research process including design, co-ordination, writing and presenting. This term, Amatul Shafi, co-op student and WxL research assistant, describes how co-op has been invaluable to her. “Co-op has allowed me to network and work closely with qualified professionals in different fields. It has allowed me to find out my job interests and narrow down my options for my career path.” Amatul was initially surprised at the amount of work that takes place at WxL to ensure quality standards for meaningful co-operative education and work-integrated learning programs. “I was completely unaware of the work that goes into maintaining the quality of WIL programs. WIL research is not just restricted to co-op—it goes way beyond just improving the experience of students and employers.”
"WIL research is not just restricted to co-op—it goes way beyond just improving the experience of students and employers."
Zhicheng Zeng, another co-op student and WxL research assistant, values the connection between his academic skillset and the workplace. “Co-op has provided me the opportunity to apply the technical skills I have learned in real life settings. I’m always excited when I can apply the knowledge that I’ve learn in school to my projects on a work term.” Zhicheng is grateful for the connection he’s noticed between WIL research and practice. “Before joining the WxL team, I didn’t know there were many other types of WIL other than internships and co-op”, says Zhicheng, “I’ve also discovered that a lot of research has been conducted by the university and other CEWIL members behind the scenes to improve the connection between work and learning. This research benefits students like me, and also the employers that hire WIL students.”
Past co-op students even return as part-time employees, leveraging their work term experience to continue to make impactful contributions to the WxL team. Amie Durston returned to the Work-Learn team as a senior research assistant after completing her work-term. “Through my co-op positions I have met so many great mentors, people who guided me on projects, taught me the ins and outs of the organization… which helped me figure out what I want to do in the future.” Amie has developed a greater appreciation for the research contribution in the work-integrated learning community. “As a student at Waterloo, I kind of took for granted these things, as they go along with the Waterloo reputation and philosophy. I never really realized everything that goes on behind the scenes to enrich our student and co-op experiences, let alone the role WIL researchers play in it.”
Hiring students each term not only brings a stream of early talent to the Work-Learn Institute, but it provides a meaningful opportunity to advance WIL research into practice. As we celebrate the co-op contribution to the Work-Learn team, we reflect on all types of work-integrated learning and the positive impact for students, employers, and institutions alike.