Texas State develops cooperative education program with NASA

Assistant News Editor

Texas State officials are continuing to develop a cooperative education program with the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center despite setbacks posed by the 2013 government shutdown.

Officials are still “very much in the embryonic stage” of developing the cooperative education program, said Michelle Londa, senior lecturer in the Ingram School of Engineering. In the cooperative education program, students will leave the university for semesters at a time to work full time at companies and institutions such as the space center, Londa said.

“We are a government institution, so implementing a major new program does not happen overnight,” Londa said.
The education program plans were delayed in October because of the government shutdown, which left NASA without “non-essential” employees for more than two weeks.

Londa said she hopes students will begin the new cooperative education program in fall 2014, but that timeline might be “too aggressive.” There are still many systems that need to be put in place, Londa said.

Once students sign up for the co-op program and begin working with a company, they should be guaranteed three semesters of work, Londa said.

“The quality of experience you get in these programs is phenomenal,” Londa said.

In the past month, Stan McClellan, director of the Ingram School of Engineering, asked professors to develop summaries of their research and sent them to NASA, Londa said. NASA replied with their interests in the areas of research Texas State is doing, which will help students be placed once the co-op program is finalized.

Current students interning at NASA hope to see the cooperative education program finalized soon.

Tina Heinich, computer science junior and current NASA intern, said she hopes to enter the cooperative education program at NASA in the future.

Once the co-op program at Texas State is finalized, Heinich said she it will be a great help in navigating the “confusing” internship application process at NASA and help students manage their scholarship and enrollment while working there.

“In school, when we do software projects, it’s really small stuff,” Heinich said. “So getting into the workforce and actually seeing a big project with a lot of people working on the same thing, that was really cool and definitely helpful.”

NASA internships and cooperative education programs differ in that internships are a one-time, semester or summer long experience and a co-op is a “multi-tour program,” said Jonathan Abary, manager for the Pathways Intern Employment Program at NASA.

Students have several opportunities to work at NASA full time in the cooperative education program, Abary said. NASA requires students in co-ops to schedule three “work tours” and to take those three semesters off from school to work full time, he said.

The primary benefit of Texas State developing a co-op program is being able to have someone dedicated toward developing a relationship with the space center when it comes to recruiting students for the program, Abary said.
“We’re excited to start developing relationships with the school, academic advisors and the career services folks out there, so that we can cast a wider net when it comes to hiring co-op students at NASA,” Abary said.

NASA enrolls about 30 new co-op students every semester. There are about 15 to 20 returning students each semester, Abary said. In the summer there are close to 100 co-op students, he said.

Londa said she is attending a conference next week for industry and education collaboration to speak with other cooperative education directors to learn best practices.