Putting a World Class Engineering Education to Work

The history of co-op education is deeply entwined with the University of Waterloo story. Early on, it was a key distinction for the University. Today, it remains a key differentiator and is the largest post-secondary co-op of its kind in the world.

Engineering was the University of Waterloo's first established faculty. In 1957, the founders of University of Waterloo, Ira Needles, J. Gerald Hagey and Rev. Cornelius Siegfried, heard the call for Canada's need for engineering and to ensure the engineers the University graduated had strong hands on learning developed the very unique concept of co-operative education.

The first co-op placements were supported through the efforts of the founders. Ira Needles, then president of B.F. Goodrich Canada campaigned his industry counterparts to hire Waterloo co-op students, and the first coop employers were mostly construction companies, as the first class of 74 University Waterloo engineers - all participating in co-op - were trained in mechanical, civil, chemical and electrical disciplines. By 1962, there were over 300 employers on board with the co-op program, including Canadian Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, Kaufman Rubber, Kimberly-Clark Pulp and Paper Company, Turnbull Elevator Company and Union Carbide Canada.

Today, University of Waterloo attracts the best and brightest of students and its co-op program, the very best of employers. Co-operative Education and Career Action (CECA), now considers more than 6,300 organizations active co-op employers, including many leading Fortune 500 brands, who travel to Waterloo to seek out engineering talent to hire. In fiscal 2014/15, 7,078 engineering work terms were filled for an employment rate of 97.5%, with students taking up positions of employment as municipal designers, construction inspectors, structural designers, environmental analysts, embedded systems developers, radio frequency testers, and systems engineering analysts, among many others. Over $107.8 million was earned on paid co-op in 2013/14, meaning University of Waterloo engineering coop students graduate with a significantly reduced debt load.

"We stand in a class of our own in the world," says Christine Moresoli, Associate Dean, Co-operative Education & Professional Affairs, University of Waterloo. "We have no comparators in terms of the size and scope of the co-op program we run, and unlike similar programs at other academic institutions where students work for one employer, University of Waterloo gives students room to explore through work terms with up to six different employers." Moresoli goes on to explain that all University of Waterloo Engineering undergrad programs are 100 percent co-op, with many students beginning their first co-op a mere four months after starting their program.

Co-op takes our students into industry, it provides them with the opportunity to learn on the job. During their time in co-op many students, such as Kurtis McBride, the CEO of Miovision , see gaps in products or services and turn those insights into entrepreneurial opportunities. Others bring back their industry learnings to the classroom, which helps to keep information in the classroom in lockstep with evolving industry standards. On the other side, our co-op program helps industry maintain strong connections to the university, which helps build research opportunities. The University of Waterloo is very industry connected, and that strength is based on what we've built through co-op.