Companies value co-op students

November 04, 2004, vol. 31, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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At the age of 20, Musharaf Sultan has made his mark in the corporate world. The Simon Fraser University student's supervisors and colleagues at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) not only respect him, but also consider him a major asset.

A fourth year computing science major, Sultan was hired in May 2004 by ICBC to help upgrade all of the corporation's personal computers from a Windows NT to a Windows XP operating environment.

Sultan's supervisor, Jack Lee is so pleased with the co-operative education student's work that he extended Sultan's work term by four months in September. “As part of our computer application testing and support group, Musharaf was required to quickly learn and troubleshoot applications created by our in-house programmers and retail developers, such as Microsoft. Many of the applications, Musharaf had never been exposed to before,” explains Lee. “Musharaf's ability to adapt has exceeded our expectations for co-ops.”

Sultan's exceptional performance does not surprise SFU co-op director Nancy Johnston. She notes that Sultan is among a growing number of co-op students who are proving to be just as much an asset to their employers as their employers are to their career preparation.

“Many of our students are asked by their co-op employers to stay on for an extra term because their contribution has been so valuable,” observes Johnston. “We get several comments a semester from co-op employers praising the contributions of students to their company's advancement.”

Johnston reads one recent letter from the Dive Industry Association of British Columbia about education co-op student Iglika Ivanova's completion of an economic impact study for the association.

“I cannot express how pleased we were with the quality of her report. I have no doubt that it will be referenced for many years to come as a benchmark for the dive community in British Columbia and assist us to achieve our full potential as an international dive destination.”

Eighty per cent of grads at SFU get full-time job offers from their co-op employers, or someone whom they have met through those employers.

That translates into a lot of happy co-op employers who want to keep students around. About 2,000 SFU students are placed in co-op jobs annually and 6,000 companies are part of SFU's co-op program.

Employers often give exceptional students higher responsibilities, normally reserved for more experienced, permanent employees. In Sultan's case, he eventually helped design and implement a reporting system that consolidates all the information in a multitude of hardware and software inventory systems at ICBC.

“This system has greatly reduced the number of manual lookups required by other project members trying to move computer applications from one operating environment to another,” explains Lee.

Sultan is now helping to upgrade ICBC's print servers and design a tracking system to ensure all the corporation's software is up-to-date and properly licenced.

Sultan attributes his exceptional performance to his previous work experience as a support technician at the Law Society of B.C. and his training at SFU.

“Many of SFU's courses teach teambuilding skills and a lot of my work here at ICBC involves working with others,” says Sultan, originally from Pakistan and now a Surrey resident.

“Being in an academic setting has also helped me deal with the stress of tight deadlines and the constant flow of new information in this kind of job. As any student will tell you, there is no pressure worse than the pressure of final exams.”

Johnston attributes the co-op program's rising number of high-performance students, such as Sultan, to “an increasing number of high-quality students at SFU, as well as more and better job opportunities. Such jobs make it attractive for exceptional students to add some time to their academics to get co-op experience.”

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