For many students at Haywood Community College, part of their work experience begins before they actually graduate. They may be seen at work throughout the county and neighboring counties in the clerk of court’s office, for an accountant, in a machine shop, or in day care centers.

These students are participating in a co-op class where they gain hands-on experience working with a local employer in an area related to the student's degree major. The advantages for the students are that the co-op integrates classroom learning with related work experience, provides a positive experience for the students to include on their resumes, and for some students has opened the door to employment. In addition, employers receive well trained students to assist them in the daily needs of their businesses.

According to Kathy Hyatt, HCC Career Development Specialist, 25 HCC students are participating in a co-op class this semester. “This is a great way for students to gain experience and job confidence as well as to evaluate their career selection and employability skills. They are required to have three measureable learning objectives set by themselves, the employer, and their instructor.”

Barbara McNary, Certified Public Accountant, has accepted students from HCC’s co-op program for several years. “As a woman in business,” she explains. “to mentor to young women is my job. It is the responsibility of all business owners to accept co-op students. It’s the responsibility of the community.”

McNary says the students do simple tax returns, learn data entry into three different programs, produce financial reports, and run payroll.

This semester, HCC Accounting student Jennifer Hoglen is completing a co-op with McNary. “It’s a great experience,” she says. “It puts what we’ve learned in the classroom to work. And it gives you a chance to learn what you can’t in a classroom.”

June Ray, the Clerk of Court for Haywood County, says her office is the hub of the legal system. “This office deals with everything from adoptions and estate matters to foreclosures and traffic lawsuits. A co-op student can really see all the different aspects of the legal field here.”

HCC Business Administration student Tiffany Mills is completing her co-op with Ray’s office this semester. She might find herself in the courtroom one day and filing the next but one thing is a sure bet, she is getting a good dose of what it’s like to work with the public.

Another member of Haywood County’s legal field, lawyer Jeff Norris, also has a co-op student for the spring. HCC Office Administration-Legal student Cheryl Fulbright, is gaining experience interacting with clients, drafting legal documents, and attending court proceedings.

“The practical experience is extremely valuable to these students,” Norris says. “It provides a whole different experience.”

Hank Kump, Administrator for Waynesville Family Practice, agrees. “We like to help people carve their path,” he says. “This experience puts the co-op student in a position to understand the whole process.”

HCC Medical Office Administration student Michelle Massie is learning the business side of the medical field at Waynesville Family Practice. Her duties include checking patients in/out, scheduling phone appointments, telephone triage, dealing with insurance claims, and making sure the patient has a pleasant visit.

At Alpha Tech in Buncombe County, HCC machining students reap the benefits of the co-op experience by working with Al Worley. He has participated in the co-op program for about 10 years with HCC and other colleges.

“This is a great opportunity to make certain this is the field they want to work in,” Worley says. “They can find out what it’s really like in the workplace before they go to work.  There will always be a demand for machinists but it is really a demanding and stressful field.”

The co-op experience is a very helpful tool for students in HCC’s Early Childhood Education programs. Most of these classes are now online. As student Shelia Wilke explains, “This is where everything you’ve learned comes to life.”

Wilke is completing her co-op at HCC’s Regional Center for the Advancement of Children. “This is a wonderful opportunity. It makes me feel more confident and at ease. Being in the environment with these children helps you know what to expect for different children, learning at different stages. You know where they should be developmentally, where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Classes give a great foundation but actually putting together what you’ve learned really makes a difference. If you don’t practice it, you don’t retain it.”

According to Sara Galvin, HCC Director for the Regional Center for the Advancement of Children, “Co-ops provide hands-on experience in the field that students may not get otherwise. This experience allows students the knowledge that comes with actually being in the setting. They learn how to use the information they have learned.”

The RCAC is a great tool for students because it has an observation room that allows students to see the interaction between the children and teachers without disturbing the classroom. Galvin says it is critical to see the dynamics of relationships between the two.

Lynn Bryant, Center Director at Bright Beginnings, a part of Mountain Projects Head Start, currently has seven of her nine employees attending HCC’s Early Childhood Programs. “Seeing these employees return to school is encouraging the assistants to continue their education,” she explains. “Since the co-op students I have are actually employees here, I can rely on them. They already know the children here and know their personalities and learning styles. The ideas they are bringing back to the center is awesome.”

No matter what field of study a student chooses to pursue, a co-op work experience provides them a good picture of what to expect in the world of work. It gives them a jump start for their career, often helping them to establish relationships in their respective fields. It puts the knowledge they’ve learned for two years to the test while greatly enhancing it. For more information about HCC’s co-op classes, please call Kathy Hyatt at 565-4095.