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The Classroom/Workplace Connection

The Drexel Co-op program is just one way that we deliver on our mission to combine real-world experience with classroom rigor.

On campus and off, students consult with industry professionals on projects that expose them to the world of patents, design, research, engineering and much more. Through consulting opportunities, research and development, and cultural projects, students create original solutions to corporate and nonprofit challenges.

Meaningful links to industry are used to inform university curricula and programming ⁠— ensuring that academic offerings remain relevant to the needs of industry and to students seeking jobs.

Through our close ties to industry, we see what’s working and what’s not, and we adapt our teaching accordingly.

Q: How do we know experiential education delivers results?

A: We study it like it’s a science.

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Drexel is home to the Center for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning Excellence (CASTLE), run by an interdisciplinary team working to identify best practices in experiential education. The CASTLE group builds tools to assess co-op as well as other real-world learning programs such as study abroad and service-learning to understand how experiential opportunities impact students.

By asking questions and examining extensive co-op data, Drexel is able to create new areas of academic excellence that position our graduates for cutting-edge careers and solidify our leadership in the cooperative education field.

Q: How do we infuse real-world connections into our classrooms and projects?

A: We partner with industry.

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Through Drexel’s Business Solutions Institute, companies collaborate with Drexel on research, custom training and evidence-based solutions.

We connect companies such as Vanguard, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Campbell’s Soup Co. and Independence Blue Cross to faculty and students through interdisciplinary projects, classes, executive education opportunities and custom industry lab research. Past projects have related to business analytics, the “internet of things” and UX/UI experience testing.

Drexel students also solve culinary challenges for food industry clients such as The Hershey Co., Bumblebee and Aramark through the Food Lab, a student-run interdisciplinary food research group. Since its founding in 2014, the Food Lab has earned a reputation for developing innovative recipes and sustainable food products that have led to patent applications and licensing agreements.

Drexel also partners with organizations in the arts and cultural and nonprofit space through the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships. Since 2017, the center has used its $3 million endowment to fund 25 (previously unpaid) co-ops at organizations like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Delaware Museum of Natural History and Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

The endowed co-ops give organizations additional resources to publicize their cultural assets while contributing to the training of future museum curators and nonprofit managers.

As Drexel further develops its tech-commercialization resources, opportunities for partnerships will accelerate. For example, the University runs ic@3401, one of the city’s most diverse early-stage startup incubators, where faculty and students collaborate with independent entrepreneurs. And in its final phases, the massive building complex Schuylkill Yards will house academic classrooms and innovative corporations side by side in a collaborative environment.

Q: How do we know our curriculum matches the needs of the workplace?

A: We ask.

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We ask students returning from co-op what they learned. We ask employers that hire our students what those students need to know. And an interdisciplinary faculty committee meets regularly with co-op advisors to review feedback from employers and students. The result is better programs across the University.

Here are some recent ways co-op has transformed how we teach:

  • The Design & Merchandising program in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design eliminated outdated visual design and art history courses. Excel skills and practical retail math for calculating mark-ups and stock-to-sales ratios were built into courses. Environmental science replaced physics as the required science credit, in recognition of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment.

  • The College of Computing & Informatics developed new required courses that bridge theory and practice. One uses project-based teaching to show students how theoretical computing concepts relate to typical industrial applications they may encounter on co-op (for example, the development of a custom database for a specific business).

  • The Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences accelerated when students take required courses after second-year students returning from their first co-ops reported they needed more foundational courses earlier in their studies.

  • The Goodwin School of Professional Studies shortened in-class instruction time and began offering more project-based learning opportunities. Rather than offer à la carte courses, the school created an official pathway so adult learners can follow a logical course progression toward certification.

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