Learning through working: department helps students get in touch

For 44 years, a relatively under publicized department has been connecting students with real world experience opportunities in a variety of careers.

Established in 1968, the Cooperative Education Department at Palomar puts students in internships spanning a wide range of industries in exchange for school credit and work experience. On average, the program enroll over 700 students in the spring and fall semesters and over 250 in the summer.

“We’re the only community college that offers this type of program all year round,” said Department Assistant Kat Balouch, one of 17 staff members. “You can’t get this anywhere else in San Diego.”

Students in the program are required to complete a series of tasks throughout the semester, including setting learning objectives for one’s internship or work experience, having a supervisor sign monthly time sheets and participating in a final interview with a Co-op Ed instructor. All aspects of the program are under close watch by Balouch and Department Chair Bruce McDonough.

“Any work is beneficial; eventually you’re going to have to work and you’ll learn how to get along with people and dress appropriately, so why not put theory to practice?” McDonough said.

An instructor also pays a visit during the semester to the student’s workplace to talk with his or her supervisor about the student’s progress. At the end of the semester students receive a letter grade for their participation in the program.

“I heard about it a long time ago and then, when asked about what classes I wanted to take, I chose to hit two birds with one stone and go for the Co-op Ed class,” said Kyle Eck, a current Co-op Ed student.

Above all elements, McDonough said he believes the learning objectives are most important.

“We want the objectives to be meaningful, specific, and something to obtain,” he said. “Setting goals changes outcomes.”

Many students’ professional outcomes have been changed by their success in the Co-op Ed Program. McDonough and Balouch said they enjoy seeing their students succeed.

“One student is in his fourth semester as a manager of a Burger King and during his first semester, was taking orders,” Balouch said. “I’m sure a lot of his success had to do with setting his goals.”

Karen Boguta, dispatch records coordinator for Palomar’s Police Department, has also had some of her own Co-op Ed students begin careers in the police field.

“We have dispatchers who are currently police officers with San Diego PD, Escondido PD, San Diego Sheriff’s Department and Highway Patrol,” Boguta said.

Even though the Co-op Ed Program enrolls many students every semester, the staffers said they always hope to gain more. Balouch said she believes word of mouth is the best to bring attention to the program and some students agree.

Cassandra Gilroy, a Co-op Ed student enrolled for work experience, is already doing her part to spread the word.

“I already recommend the program to anyone who will listen,” Gilroy said. “I think it’s such a great concept and very beneficial to working students.”


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