Last updated: August 23. 2013 3:25PM - 680 Views

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LIMA — Katie Brewer is just six weeks into her cooperative experience at PotashCorp, but the University of Dayton chemical engineering student is already on her way to becoming an expert on the plant.

“I came in knowing next to nothing about a chemical plant,” she said during a discussion on internships and co-ops at Rhodes State College on Tuesday. “Six weeks and I feel like I have already learned so much more than a semester of classes at school.”

Rhodes officials and several business representatives bent the ears of Ohio Board of Regents Interim Chancellor Stephanie Davidson and Acting State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers.

“We know at the board of regents that co-ops and internships are really critical for our moving forward as a state,” Davidson said, saying it benefits students and businesses.

The state is trying to push more internships and co-ops, including offering Ohio Means Internships and Co-ops Program grants. Rhodes, with its partnership with Clark State Community College and Marion Technical College, is in line to receive $261,662.

Rhodes State President Debra McCurdy said the award will change Rhodes and its ability to build relationships with business, provide experience for students and provide skilled workers for industry.

“This is game changing for the college,” she said. “It puts it at a whole new level and dimension that says this is critical for our students.”

Dan Schoch, an adviser who worked with Rhodes on its program proposal, said such programs address problems like students working toward Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) not getting through college and those who do leaving Ohio.

Between 50 and 60 percent of students working on STEM degrees graduate, Schoch said. That jumps to 95 percent when they have been in an internship or co-op. Fifty-five percent of STEM graduates leave the state, but 95 percent stay if they had internship and co-op experiences.

American Trim, Honda of America, PotashCorp and Minster Machine all spoke of programs their companies have in place. Steve Hatkevich, director of research and development at American Trim, said the company long ago recognized the importance of such programs. The company has programs that include students just out of high school and students of two-year, four-year and advanced-degree programs.

“Our greatest asset that we have as a company isn’t the equipment, isn’t our location. It is the human capital that we have,” Hatkevich said.

Sawyers said internships and co-ops are part of the state’s plan to make students successful. Talk of such opportunities need to start as young as middle school, he said.

“We need to get to kids at a much earlier age and help them make the bridge to connection,” he said. “Create that career connection that could lead to this thing called internship or co-op experiences that ultimately allows them to take the practical knowledge they learn on a daily basis and apply it in the classroom.”

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