Return to campus visits, post work term interviews, debriefings; in a group or individually; regardless of what you call it or how you conduct it, a post work term meeting between co-op staff and co-op student is critical to the student’s success and growth as a professional. The purpose of this article is not to convince you of a better way to conduct a return to campus meeting, but to demonstrate their value to a successful co-op program.
Return to campus meetings benefit both co-op staff and students and the time spent conducting them is definitely worth the benefits they will bring to the program. Two of the responsibilities of the co-op coordinator are to monitor the placement and assist the student in their professional development. Both can be accomplished in part during the return to campus meeting. It can be hard to gauge the quality of a placement during the site visit because a student may not have begun all aspects of their assigned work duties and may still be in training mode. The return to campus meeting is when you can fully assess the quality of the placement. The same is true for a student. Prior to the site visit they may not have fully realized their potential on the job and therefore may not have recognized the skills and experience the job offered. Assisting them in recognizing these skills and experience and in evaluating their previously established learning objectives is a critical component of the return to campus meeting. Without discussion, some students may simply remember the work term as a “summer job” or a “paycheck” and may not realize how the experience fits into their career path. We see evidence of this on student’s resumes, where transferable skills gained are not identified or the experience gained is minimized. This discussion should prompt the students to update their resume with their newly developed skills.
The return to campus meeting also acts as a wrap up to the work term. If there had been any concerns or issues discussed at the site visit or during the work term, the coordinator can follow up to ensure the resolution to the issues was satisfactory with all concerns addressed. This is especially important if there were any performance issues. Without follow up a student may take the attitude of “off work, off mind.” During the meeting the coordinator can provide guidance on how a student can continue to develop necessary skills before their next work term.
Follow up may also be needed in regards to a student’s work term report. Work term reports continue to be a source of debate between co-op staff and students and I have often heard students complain that they simply cannot see the value in the report. By spending time during a return to campus meeting to discuss the report and its evaluation the coordinator can once again stress the importance of the report in the student’s professional development.
Once the discussion of the work term and the report is finished the return to campus meeting gives the coordinator the perfect opportunity to update a student’s file. Many students have new addresses and contact information now that they’re back on campus and may have even changed majors as a result of a work term. The coordinator can also confirm their plans for the next work term and also what goals they would like to accomplish. This allows the student to participate in some discussion about the opportunities they feel will fit within their career path and they can make plans with their coordinator to fulfill those goals.
The return to campus meeting is critical to the success of a co-op program and to the professional development of student. It provides the program with a quality control measure, an opportunity to ensure the development of a student and an opportunity to ensure updated information is gathered. They give the student an excellent opportunity to discuss their career goals and professional development as well as their work term report. No matter how these meetings are conducted, in person, over the phone, one on one or in a group, they will add value to your co-op program.