This is one of a regular series profiling the Drexel Co-op program, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019-2020.
Bob Quaglia is a big believer in fate, although that belief has been well-tested.
For instance, Quaglia (BS electrical and computer engineering ’86) worked at the same company for all three co-ops while an undergraduate student at Drexel University, but when his graduation came around, RCA Government and Commercial Systems in Camden, New Jersey wasn’t hiring.
“Initially, I was discouraged,” he remembered. “But what I did was I relied on my past experiences, which were excellent from Drexel’s co-op program, and I used that leverage, which made me very marketable, to find a design engineering job because I had an edge on other students who were just graduating who didn’t come from a co-op. I had 18 months of design experience. So, I had several job offers after I put in the energy and effort to find the job through Drexel’s and my own independent job research.”
Quaglia first landed a job after graduation with American Electronic Labs in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where he was able to continue to grow his passion for analog and digital design. But then, he was laid off. He responded to an ad in the paper for a startup hardware group doing data broadcasting work under the tutelage of consultancy group Woodward McCoach, Inc. (WMI). But even that wasn’t Quaglia’s fate. When he realized the great mentorship he was receiving from the partners who owned WMI, he made a pitch asking them to hire him full time.
“At that time, there was only five WMI employees, and I was number six,” Quaglia, now a senior systems/hardware engineer for the company, said. “And I’ve been there ever since.”
In a Q&A with DrexelNow, Quaglia explains the benefit of a long-term career with the same company, and how he’s helped shape the fate of Drexel co-op students like he once was as a manager at WMI since 1994.
Q: How long have you been working at Woodward McCoach, Inc.?
A: This past August was my 30th anniversary, so now I’m working on my 31st year.
Q: What do you think has kept you there for so long? And what are the benefits of staying at the same company for a long time?
A: That’s easy. Work is never boring [at WMI] because we’re designing state-of-the-art technology, which is very exciting, and I love creating things.
One of the big things here is, you know, we all wear many hats in a small company. And a big part of my job is overseeing the co-op program, which has me working with the young students and that really keeps me on my toes. I really enjoy mentoring them. The weeks and months go by really quickly. And, you know, I look back over time and [think], “Where has it all gone?”
By working with a company long-term, you help shape the culture of the staff over time. One of the big things for me is that WMI is my extended family. Over the years I’ve gotten to see the staff grow. The students have gotten married and I get to hear about how their families are growing. So, you know, I’m a family guy. … If you think about it, we work long hours during the day and you see people here at work more than you see your own family. So you really want to enjoy what you do in life, and I do. That’s why it’s been so easy to stay with one company, because it’s never dull, it’s always exciting, it’s always different, it’s always new technology. And, oh, by the way, there’s a bunch of great people working here, and it’s enjoyable to be around those people day in and day out.
Q: How long have you been managing the co-op program at Woodward McCoach? What made you want to start doing this?
A: I started the co-op program at WMI in 1994 as a way to grow the staff. I’ve been mentoring and overseeing the program ever since, and as the company has grown, I have invited younger members of the staff to help with the interview process and become mentors and to continue to grow the co-op team staff here. I started a “Co-op Hall of Fame.” Over the years, we have had hired 32 full-time students who have co-oped with us. We also have 11 [Drexel] alums who are here who did not co-op with us
One of my first co-ops, Lan Somsanith, who co-oped in the spring and summer of 1995, is still an employee here today.
Every student has their own mentor, and I oversee all this, so I don’t mentor on a day-to-day basis anymore. I coordinate and I know what’s going on and I check in with all the students all the time because it’s important, but it has grown from me just mentoring to now where I have a team of mentors. The idea is when I retire, the legacy continues. … So WMI will have a legacy to Drexel. That’s my legacy and my contribution to Drexel University, is to train the next generation of bright young engineers, and who better to do that than past Drexel co-ops who have worked with me?
Q: What are the keys to success for a co-op student?
A: The keys to success are good communication skills and an open dialogue to understand the task at hand. I tell the students all the time, when you don’t understand the assignments or the task, ask for clarification and get help. Don’t be afraid to provide input and make suggestions. If you have completed your task at hand, don’t sit around. Go to your mentor or project lead and ask them what’s next. Providing status and feedback is very important. … Those are lifelong skills for anybody in any job.
I do have a specific case where a co-op student refused to seek help and would not ask questions. We actually had to lay off [that] co-op student; it was a difficult situation.
Q: Do you have any stories of co-op students who have made a big impact on the business?
A: I have many examples of students who have made a gigantic impact on our company. … Research and development is a big part of who we are as a company. We use research to understand new technologies and how we’re going to use that new technology to implement that into new product development. So, recently, we had two students partner together. …We asked them to research something called data plane development kit and how we could implement this in our hardware and software platform. Those students were highly successful and, every two weeks we met with them, and they actually trained our staff and explained what they were doing and then gave a six-month, year-end presentation and that work is now going to be the framework for some new product development that’s moving forward in our company. So here we have students teaching the old folks.
There was another student who actually did a design from beginning to end which we’re starting to productize. So it’s our next-generation optical solid state recorder. She designed the project from beginning to end with the help of myself and another mentor, Jonathan. She did everything from PowerPoint presentation to schematic capture to laying out the printed circuit board to putting a package together to get it manufactured and it came back and she tested it, she debugged it and then wrote some test code and did the whole product project. She also led the design review of the project, and got to speak in front of the engineering staff and got challenged. She went through and answered all the questions. So, we have done that with other students throughout the years who are exceptional.
And by the way, all those three students just mentioned, we hired them full-time!
Q: What are some changes you’ve made to the WMI co-op program over the years?
A: We get input from the students on how we can make our program better and we take those ideas and we’re constantly tweaking our program to make it the best it can be. If you don’t get input and you stay static, you die, right? So the best programs are ones that are agile, that are constantly growing and changing. And that’s why we’ve been so successful.
For instance, we usually let them do a year-end presentation and get in front of the staff and talk. But since some students have difficulty with communication, one of the students suggested that they present and give updates on their project in front the staff every several weeks. We’ve implemented that and it’s working excellently. Other people in the staff are getting to understand what’s going on with them. They’re getting better because they’re presenting material. They’re getting more comfortable being in front of others. People are learning in the process. So it’s a win-win for everybody. So by the end, the student now is well-polished. They know how to put presentations together. They know how to present and they know how to ask and answer questions.
Q: Have co-ops changed since 1995?
A: I just think, as time has gone on, students have become faster learners and they’re just much more tech savvy. They’re using the Internet to do research and all kinds of advanced software tools to solve problems. It has accelerated over the years, and some of the new things they bring to the table, they’ll say, “Well, what about this tool?”
For me, that’s great. It keeps me on my toes. But I could see for maybe some other managers or other people who might be a little bit older, it might be a little bit challenging for them.
Q: How do you think the co-op program has been able to withstand the test of time? And if you have any thoughts about what the future of the program, if any changes will happen or anything that you’re looking forward to?
A: The reason why the Drexel Co-op program has been successful: It’s six months. Most schools don’t have a co-op program. You can only do two- or three-month internships in the summer, and it’s very difficult. It takes a while for a student to get up to speed. They’re hitting full-stride in the second or third month. And so, if you only have three months, they’re gone before they can hit that stride. … That’s what sets Drexel apart from other schools. And if I was in charge, if I could say “a college can’t be a college unless it had a co-op program,” I would. I think it should be a mandatory thing that doesn’t matter whether it’s engineering, business or anything. It must be three cycles, a five-year program. I think all universities are doing a disservice to themselves if they don’t have a co-op program. I’m a very strong believer in Drexel’s co-op program.
Drexel’s co-op has withstood the test time because intrinsically, job experience, is so important and helps shape the students and gives them insight on who they want to be. The Drexel Co-op program will never go away. I’m confident about that.
About the Drexel Co-op program: Nearly all eligible undergraduate students at Drexel University participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different, six-month-long work experiences during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from hundreds of employers across the country and globally — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged opportunities.