On a sunny Tuesday, 20-year-old Tyler Wirth hops into an elevator at the University of Cincinnati dormitory construction site on Calhoun Street.
It’s a rickety ride with eight people in the elevator, but Wirth smiles and assures it is safe.
Before entering the 13th floor, the top floor of the recently gutted dormitory, which is now being converted for 822 students, Wirth’s eyes light up.
âThis is probably my favorite view of Cincinnati,â he says.
And it’s a beautiful view. On one side you can see the crown of the Great American Tower in the skyline of Cincinnati and on the other you can see the entire campus of the UC. When the building is finished, some students can even watch a soccer game from the window of their dorm room and look into the Nippert Stadium.
This is Wirth’s twelfth week in his current dual training at Messer Construction, although he also worked with the client last spring and stayed in contact with his manager during his summer courses. UC has a consistently high priority among the university cooperation programs. Officials said the program only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wirth says he has now walked from the top of the building to the ground floor at least 50 times, three times a week or more often for safety walks. He likes to know about building at the university. Sometimes his friends ask aloud: âMan, what are they doing in Calhoun?â And Wirth can tell them – right down to the number of beds that will fit in the dormitory and which will be the first and last rooms ready for occupancy.
Starting at the top, Wirth goes with his supervisor and UC industrial hygienist and building safety specialist John Burke to the security check on each floor. You want to make sure that general safety protocols are followed: detecting fall hazards, making sure power cables are stowed and the platform and wheels of the carts are locked. If problems do arise, Wirth notes them on his iPad and sends a photo to the correct foreman.
The words “Safety is my responsibility” is emblazoned on his green hard hat for Messer, which is on the latest Deloitte Cincinnati 100 list as the fifth largest privately owned company in the Cincinnati area.
Wirth, one of the youngest on the construction site, says the hard hat gives him the security to let other workers know when they need to make a safety setting. Some of these employees are twice his age, which can be uncomfortable, he says.
One of Wirth’s goals when he started his fall collaboration was to work on his communication skills. He says he’s been given daily opportunities to do so by having morning meetings with the foremen, and he can already say he’s feeling better.
“Now I’m with everyone by their first name,” says Wirth.
115 years of cooperation at UC
The University of Cincinnati co-op program rose# 4 in the latest US News & World Report rankings, published in mid-September this year. The local program has historically ranked among the top 5 co-op programs in the country.
Its reputation is enough to attract students from all over the world. Anshumi Dhingra, a graduate of UC’s prestigious College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, completed her bachelor’s degree from CEPT University in India. She told the Enquirer that she particularly appreciated the type of curriculum she wanted in a graduate program.
“The great thing about UC was that there was co-op while you were studying,” said Dhingra. Every other program she applied for had an internship near the end of her degree, while UC’s graduate program requires two collaborations. “So, so to speak, you get a certain amount of work experience with academics.”
In fact, the university established the concept of collaborative education 115 years ago, said Gigi Escoe, vice priest for UC’s undergraduate studies and dean of experiential learning and professional education. The early programs were designed for engineering students, but now students from all fields of study can apply for positions with the university’s more than 2,200 global partners.
Each cooperative is specific to a student’s individual needs, she said. And in contrast to an internship, the cooperative is embedded in the academic curriculum of the students. According to Escoe, UC is constantly looking to improve its program to meet the growing and changing needs of students first, and then to meet the increasing demands of the industry in the wake of the labor shortage caused by the pandemic.
“This doesn’t mean following someone for coffee,” Escoe said. “It’s not job shadowing.”
More: How UC works to curb IT talent shortage through a high school recruitment program
Undergraduate students in engineering, information technology, and DAAP are required to complete at least three collaborative experiences before graduation, Escoe said.
“So that after graduation they have nearly two years of work experience,” explained Escoe. “And they’re usually hired in non-entry-level positions, but they take into account the fact that they have two years of work experience, both in salary and title.”
Business administration students must also take part in a part-time course; all other courses have a âpractical experienceâ requirement, which is achieved through a service learning program, undergraduate research, study abroad, student teaching, clinical internships or a co-op.
Escoe said college students participate in over 8,000 collaborative opportunities each year. Before the pandemic, the students collectively made more than $ 70 million a year. Last year, due to COVID-19, officials said the students in the cooperative made about $ 58 million combined, although the number of students in the program did not decrease. And the number of partners has actually increased, Escoe said, as more companies urgently needed workers.
“Work has changed forever,” Escoe said in the wake of the pandemic. âAnd young people who are just getting out there are going to have 50, 60 year old careers starting in this new world, right? And they will emerge from it. So it’s not just digital. How do you find friends? How does teamwork work? How does the brainstorming work? So I have to prepare them for this workforce, not the one that existed in 2017. Because it’s gone forever. ”
‘Best decision I’ve ever made.’
Dhingra signed a cooperation with City Studios Architecture in Over-the-Rhine last year and is now in the process of applying for their next cooperation experience. As an international student, getting to know the American workplace culture is just as important to her as the design work.
For Sydney O’Connor, a UC 2021 graduate, the co-op program took away her fear of graduation without knowing if she actually liked the career she was preparing for. It was only in her third collaboration with Tesla that she said she had found a work culture and a job description that she could see in the long term.
“In retrospect, it was without a doubt the best decision I have ever made,” said O’Connor of the decision to visit UC for a break from class. It was nice to make some money. That makes UC incredibly affordable. ”
O’Connor now works as a firmware quality engineer at Apple, where she completed her last collaboration on UC before graduating. She has heard co-workers complain about student debts taken in by expensive private schools on the west coast. O’Connor is grateful for the cooperatives that have enabled her to make money instead of spending it on tuition for these semesters.
Wirth, now in his third year at the university, says he prefers collaborations over studies.
“I feel that firsthand work experience is most important when you are embarking on a career, whatever it is,” he said. “You don’t get practical experience in class.”
Towards the end of his security walk, Wirth photographs a gaping hole in Calhoun Street where a guard is needed. His team hung a red chain at the entrance to the site so that no âzombiesâ – students walking with their eyes on their cell phones – accidentally walk in without proper safety equipment.
Burke gives him a punch today for Wirth’s good work. Wirth smiles and goes back to his little office across the street. Soon he will be driving home to his apartment less than half a mile away and preparing for track training. He is grateful for Messer’s flexibility in his sporting schedule and the weekend competitions.
âThis is the perfect situation for me right now,â he says. “Because they know we are students and we still have this college life.”