Earlier this year, the foundation and its executive director, Andy Danner, were honored by Mount St. Joseph College as “Co-op Employer of the Year.”
“That tells me that we’re doing something right with these kids,” says Danner. “I’ve told them we’ve keep taking the students as long as they have them. It’s worked out really well for us.”
Smart Business talked with Danner about how to successfully integrate a cooperative education (co-op) program into a corporate setting.
Just for the record, define ‘co-op students.’
To our organization, they are local college or university students who need an internship or co-op to fulfill a course requirement. After spending a semester or longer with us, they earn class credit. Sometimes, though, they’re strictly volunteers, not earning class credit, working for experience or to build a resume.
None of the positions at our organization are paid, and there’s really no structure to when a co-op begins and ends. Naturally, a lot of them occur because of school semesters. We like them to stay a full year so they can see all of our events in action, to make it worth their while. The only thing we ask from them is a minimum of 15 hours of time per week. That boils down to two days a week that gets them involved in our day-to-day operations.
Why hire co-op students?
As a nonprofit, we only have so many funds to allocate toward staff. Therefore, we rely upon local college students to help us in areas that our staff can’t cover.
We reap the benefits of bringing in some talent that can enhance our events and day-to-day operations in every aspect. In return, they receive hands-on experience.
Anthony Munoz is a pretty recognizable name here in the area. With that comes some pretty significant connections with our partners and stakeholders, and we can put the co-ops in a position to appear and interact with those people.
We offer a lot of fringe benefits, so to speak, beginning with our relationship with the top companies in the area. We try to treat the co-ops and interns to lunch every once in a while, take them to a game or two. It doesn’t replace paying them, but it’s a small way to say thank you.
What are some typical assignments?
A lot of the jobs are administrative. For example, we just ran a football academy with 500 kids, and one of my co-ops made sure that 500 registrations were processed, followed up with the kids and their parents, made sure the equipment was ordered, food vendors were in line, t-shirts and prizes ordered. In short, everything from A to Z.
We’ve also brought on some graphic design students. To really put out professional and first-class ads and marketing pieces, it benefits us to have co-ops who specialize in that area.
What should employers look for in working with a college to hire co-op students?
Interviewing all of our interns and co-ops is an important part of the process. We want them to understand, as much as possible, what our organization is trying to accomplish. In turn, we want to meet them, to hear what their goals are, and to know what they’re looking to achieve.
We’ve had experiences with some kids who think it’s going to be all fun and games. Those experiences haven’t worked out. But kids who understand that there’s work to do here -- those are successful.
What is the employer’s responsibility in hiring co-ops?
Our corporate partners who see our program working and see the co-ops making contributions often ask for references. But I tell them that they have to devote some time to organizing the workload. You want these kids, but when they come in, you want to give them some responsibilities. You don’t want to waste their time. It’s definitely a commitment.
Our organization takes great pride in making sure these kids have a good experience and that they learn. We really want to prepare them for life after school.
Also, in almost every case, we have some sort of follow-up review that we have to develop and submit. Mount St. Joe’s has an actual form that we have to fill out and grade the student in certain areas. Other schools ask for a letter of recommendation. We also have one-on-one exit interviews that are important.
On a personal basis, what’s most rewarding?
Before I moved to Cincinnati, I was a head baseball coach at a small college in Illinois. One of the great things about coaching is that you get to teach kids something that you enjoy. Although I don’t do that now, the internship program is the closest thing to it. When they get excited about what they’re doing, I get excited. It’s one of the better parts of my job.
ANDY DANNER is executive director of the Anthony Munoz Foundation, named the 2006 Co-op Employer of the Year by the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach Danner at (513) 772-4900. Reach the College of Mount St. Joseph Cooperative Education Program at (513) 244-4888 or (800) 654-9314.