Godwin leaves co-op legacy

October 20, 2005, vol. 34, no. 4
By John Grant

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The work of one woman has paved the way for a legacy affecting thousands of post-secondary students today.

Doreen Godwin was asked 30 years ago to develop a practical work experience program for SFU's school of computing science. Co-operative education was a relatively new term in 1975, initiated at the University of Waterloo and viewed skeptically by students, faculty, and employers.

Since Godwin had recently come from industry, where she had prior experience working with co-op students from Waterloo, she used their co-op structure as a working model to implement it at SFU. The course structure was in place at SFU and students were interested. Only the employers were missing.

The concept of placing a university student in a professional work environment before graduation was not common practice at the time and it was difficult to justify why employers should hire students over industry professionals. However, in the summer of 1975 Godwin defied all odds when she placed the first 16 co-op students with highly respected companies such as IBM and B.C. Hydro - employers who continue with SFU co-op today. When asked how she selected the initial employers, she laughs, “I picked up the yellow pages and started leafing through them.”

Godwin claims that it took some time for the program to run smoothly. “It was somewhat of a rollercoaster ride,” she says.

“Since this was such a new concept at the time, it would take me quite a while to convince employers that this model of education was complementary to their business practices.”

Oct. 1 marked the official 30th anniversary for the program, and the situation is very different today. There are co-op departments in each faculty and more than 2,500 students enrolled in the program. Graduates who have a degree combined with practical experience have a big advantage over their counterparts, Goodwin notes.

SFU co-op has become a leader in the development of innovative tools and resources to assist students through their education and work placements. Today, nearly 50 staff work together to provide programs.

When co-op's founder retired in 1998, she left with fond memories. Recalling some of the highlights during her 23 year co-op career, Goodwin simply smiles: “Thinking about students who reached new heights through the co-operative education experience will always bring a smile to my face.

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