NMSU students gain work experience through cooperative education

By Tiffany Acosta

Educational experiences transcend the classroom at NMSU. Students have numerous opportunities to expand on their academic knowledge with programs such as cooperative education, internships and education abroad.

For Paulina Galarza ’20 participating in the first cohort of the Lockheed Martin co-op program allowed her to experience an engineering work environment while she pursued her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Working in the industry and with colleagues before graduation offers students valuable insight into life as a full-time employee.

“The biggest lesson I learned is that it’s very important to ask questions,” Galarza says. “I always thought the questions would end after college, but I was mistaken. Asking questions continues to aid my growing career. Additionally, I learned the importance of working with others and actually asking for help with tasks.”

After the end of Galarza’s co-op position and her graduation, Lockheed Martin hired her as a systems engineer on the Double Eagle II program.

Galarza was one of 10 students in the 2019 pilot cohort, which required students to pass a series of security clearances prior to a co-op position offer. The process takes approximately 12 to 18 months before students can begin working. The second cohort consists of 16 students, and the third cohort is currently being selected.

“Providing the students an opportunity to test drive the work in this particular work environment allows them to exercise what they have learned in the classroom and gain valuable experience working in a diverse, multi-generational environment,” says Greta Burger, systems engineering program manager at Lockheed Martin. “In many cases, this type of opportunity can ultimately lead to a full-time position with the company.”

Burger says the collaboration with NMSU helps both organizations. The co-op program allows Lockheed Martin an opportunity to lessen the extended waiting period for the clearance level required and maximize cost saving.

“NMSU provides a great STEM pipeline for new employees in the Las Cruces area,” Burger says. “By working with NMSU to develop the co-op program we are fulfilling a need for technical careers in southern New Mexico and providing a pipeline of prepared, career-ready employees for our programs.”

“The academic knowledge gained through attending NMSU is a very important part of preparing for a long term career; however, in today’s workforce, employers are looking for graduates who have also participated in experiential learning opportunities such as co-ops, internships, education abroad and volunteering because those activities develop the ever important and sought-after soft skills that are extremely valuable when going into a highly competitive field,” says Trish Leyba ’03 ’14 ’18, director of NMSU’s Office of Experiential Learning.

“Those soft skills include teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, communication skills, time management, interpersonal relations, critical thinking and initiative to name a few. Students who engage in a co-op give themselves a greater advantage in building their careers post-graduation,” Leyba says.

“I know a lot of students get internships or co-ops whenever possible, but it’s okay to participate in experiential learning opportunities during your last summer or even last semester,” Galarza says. “Experience is experience, no matter when you were able to get it, as long as you know what to do with it.”

For students considering co-op programs, Galarza suggests contacting NMSU alumni who work at co-op participating companies for advice and valuable insights.

Top: Paulina Galarza was one of 10 NMSU students in the 2019 pilot cohort of the Lockheed Martin cooperative education program. She gained valuable work experience as an undergraduate student, which led to a full-time position as a systems engineer on the Double Eagle II program at Lockheed Martin. Bottom: Lockheed Martin provides a cooperative education program for NMSU students while also participating in campus career events. Working with the Office of Experiential Learning and the Center for Academic Advising and Student Support, Lockheed Martin frequently offers student engagement sessions for resume writing, interview preparation, preparing to work in a classified environment and general information sessions.