Ian Sladen is the Vice President of Cooperative Education and Career Development at Drexel University, a cooperative education school that has practiced that form of education for over 100 years. Previously, he was the Associate Dean for Drexel’s Charles Close School of Entrepreneurship and helped develop their entrepreneurship and Innovation degree programs. He brings this faculty and academic knowledge to the job or Co-op Vice President. As Nations turn toward more skill development from Higher Education institutions, we thought it would be interesting to talk with Ian about how their program works and what are its benefits to student maturity of this form of experiential education that enable them to succeed post-graduation. We also wanted to ask him how Drexel was coping with the rush to virtualization forced by the Covid19 pandemic and what are the implications for the future.
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Resources Discussed in this Episode:
Music Credits: C’est La Vie by Derek Clegg
ExperiencED Season 3, Episode 1
Jim Stellar: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ExperiencEd podcast. I am Jim Stellar.
[00:00:12] Mary Churchill: [00:00:12] I am Mary Churchill
[00:00:13] Adrienne Dooley: [00:00:13] And I am Adrienne Dooley.
[00:00:15] Jim Stellar: [00:00:15] We bring you this podcast on experiential education
[00:00:18] Mary Churchill: [00:00:18] with educators and thought leaders
[00:00:20] Adrienne Dooley: [00:00:20] from around the country and the world.
[00:00:23] Jim Stellar: [00:00:23] And Sladen currently serves as Drexel University's, vice president cooperative education and career development, leading the Steinbright career development center for cooperative education and career services programs. He represents the university on experiential learning career development, labor trends, as well as professional associations, those presentations at conferences, boards, and news media outlets. He collaborates with senior university leaders on the integration of cooperative education and career services with academic programs and establishes donor opportunities to support international and other co-op experiences.
[00:01:04] Previously Ian was the associate Dean and co-founder of Drexel's Charles D.Close School of Entrepreneurship assisting in curriculum development for the BA and MS programs in entrepreneurship and innovation. He established the entrepreneurship co-op program in conjunction with this time droid center and help the school achieve national ranking by the Princeton review slash entrepreneur.
[00:01:28] For nearly a decade before that he had served as assistant Dean of undergraduate programs for Drexel's Bennett S. Lebow School of Business and oversaw undergraduate, academic advising, career services, recruitment co-curricular education and freshmen business studies and holds a BA in psychology from Stonehill College and MS in applied educational psychology from Northeastern University.
[00:01:54] Ian, thank you for joining us today. it's really a pleasure to talk to you. I know we're old friends, but it's, it's great to see you, and to have you as part of the podcast. To launch into the first question, you head the cooperative education unit at one of the biggest coop schools in the country that has over a hundred-year history of this practice. What is it like to coordinate this historic, yet new again, experiential program? And how does it work at Drexel university?
[00:02:22] Ian Sladen: [00:02:22] Yeah, thank you for asking. So, first of all, it's an, I've been in this role for three years, as the Vice President for Cooperative Education and Career Development, and being a veteran of Drexel for 21 years, it is an absolute honor to hold this position.
[00:02:37] Just understanding the importance of cooperative education and career development, in the lives of students. And certainly, it's importance, at Drexel university. as you mentioned, we just celebrated our Centennial anniversary this past academic year, with, with lots of events. As you can imagine, the first six months were far more festive and maybe less exciting than the than the last six months with COVID-19.
[00:03:06] But our program is really incredible. And I think the longevity that we have speaks to the power of the co-op program, and really the commitment from our employer partners in supporting the program. Just to give you a little sense of how our program operates in terms of size and scope, I would share with you that, We have approximately 6,000 students undergraduate students that participate in Drexel's co-op program every year, in partnership with about 1,500 employer partners, many of which have been with us for decades.
[00:03:42] Our students at Drexel have the opportunity to either enroll in a four-year program, with one six month co-op experience embedded in the curriculum, but most students actually do the five-year program that have three, six month, co-op experiences embedded into the curriculum.
[00:04:09] And so they obviously have an opportunity to, gain additional skills, and leverage those into, co-ops that have more responsibility. Students have the opportunity to work for three different companies or perhaps return to a company for a second. Co-op potentially, with the, with the hopes of, of becoming a full-time employee upon graduation.
[00:04:33] The way we operate, as I mentioned is on six-month co-op cycles. So, Drexel being on the quarter system, we have a fall and winter cycle and then a spring summer cycle, fall winter, runs roughly from the third week of September through the end of March and then the spring summer cycle, as you might imagine, runs from early April through the second week in September.
[00:04:57]a great thing about that, for students is that it's not like an abbreviated summer internship up in six months. Not only do the students have an opportunity to really get past some, some learning curve issues, but they contribute meaningful meaningfully to the organization.
[00:05:16] And then for employers, it would be back-to-back six-month cycles. They really have an opportunity for year-round continuity in either one or multiple positions within the organization. So, they have a steady pipeline of Drexel talent in the organization, and certainly use the co-op program as a talent pipeline for that reason.
[00:05:39] Jim Stellar: Let me stop you there for a second, because having spent 22 years at Northeastern at another club school, I'm also used to this, but I want to flag it for our audience, that this is a way in which the university is, in addition to being student centered, is employer centered. They take care of the employers.
[00:05:56] I think that gives co-op schools a big advantage when it comes to that long-term relationship with employers, that's so critical to, your student experiences and their growth. so I just wanted to flag that for our listeners. I think that's a very important. Idea that, other institutions need to think about if they're not going to follow the co-op model that Drexel, Northeastern, Cincinnati, and other schools do.
[00:06:20] Ian Sladen: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for flagging that.
[00:06:23] Jim Stellar: [00:06:23] Well, I think its critical. So, let me go to my next question, which is, what are some of the greatest benefits you see from this program? We've already talked about this a little bit. We know the job success is one of them. That's a critical feature, but what are some of the others besides the job success for the students?
[00:06:42] Ian Sladen: [00:06:42] Yeah, obviously, employment rates upon graduation are the, the kind of a numbers that, that, you know, prospective students and parents want to hear as, as they enter Drexel. Certainly, it is an expectation that they'll be gainfully employed upon graduation.
[00:06:57] And, you know, we see, we see very high employment rates for our students and they typically have salaries that run now roughly 15% above the national average for first-time employees. So, we're very proud of that, but that's not really what you're getting at with your question.
[00:07:16] It's what are all the things that go into being a qualified candidate and then go into their professional development. So, I think some of those, and there are a number of things, but one I would say is professional maturity. And think about the percentage of students that arrive to college these days, without ever holding a job … right.
[00:07:41] A summer job. Back in the day I flipped burgers and fried food. I'm from New England, and I've been working since the age of 14. But yeah, young people nowadays, to the tune of I believe about 60%, arrived to college without having had a summer job. So, some they lack of the professional maturity that comes from working with others, working with folks that have more experience in the field.
[00:08:05]And it is not just learning, the kind of on-the-job-skills, but you know how to behave in a workplace, how to address a manager, how to send an email to a supervisor or to a client that is beyond what the communication they use these days in social media, or texting and things of that nature.
[00:08:29] The development of professional competencies, is another one of the things that we assess at the, at the end of every co-op. Students do a self-assessment on professional competencies, whether they are kind of the technical skills that they should learn, either are learning, or are implementing from their curriculum onto the job. But also, you know what?
[00:08:53] We no longer really call these soft skills, but essential skills, in terms of how to work with people, how to operate in teams, how to be a good listener, how to problem solve and think critically. These are things that, I think Drexel students are a bit ahead of the curve on in comparison to students that don't have the opportunity to participate in co-ops.
[00:09:21] Obviously also professional confidence, and the ability to really tap their network. So in addition to co-op, there's obviously a lot that goes into preparing students for that co-op. So in our co-op 101 course that we offer, we really try to have them think about the folks that they're working with as part of their professional network, throughout their career. And not only how to operate especially in a virtual environment, which I'm sure we'll get to, but how to connect with people within the organization, invite them to lunch, invite them to coffee, pick their brain, do an informational interview. How to really leverage LinkedIn as a very powerful tool for networking.
[00:10:06] And I guess lastly, I would say there is a kind of really knowing what they want to do in their career. Just because a student declares a major and is sure that they want to be an accountant or whatever the case may be as a freshman in college, one of the things that we find is about 10 to 15% of our students actually change majors after the first co-op.
[00:10:30] So, you know, we avoid those stories that you hear about someone that's gone on for a medical degree, only to realize they, at the end of the rainbow, they don't want to be a doctor. And so I think co-op is, is kind of one of those opportunities for students to really understand what they like and what they don't, and help kind of guide them in terms of their own, career exploration of what they want to be doing in the early part of their career.
[00:10:57] Jim Stellar: [00:10:57] Well, this is a very nice and, what, I resonate with it Northeastern. I used to say that the students that came back from co-op, and they were against six months at Northeastern, had grown two inches. I didn't really mean that physically, but they seemed to put a single word on it, mature. They had undergone something that the employers recognized, and they recognized, and you could see it yourself.
[00:11:22] It's was really very satisfying and that's, what I see in the Drexel students that I know. So, let's talk about the other side of the coin for a second - your challenges. What are some of your greatest challenges, particularly in maintaining what I'm going to call this learning integration between industry and the academy? What do you see as your greatest challenges there?
[00:11:42] Ian Sladen: [00:11:42] Well, you know, I think for me, and I know that you've read my bio and so on and so forth, but one of the things in having been at Drexel for so many years and served as an assistant Dean and as an associate Dean is I had got a really good understanding of the academic enterprise. I have worked with faculty every day, learned what made them tick and, and, over the course of 21 years, really understand the culture of Drexel.
[00:12:15] One of the things that I found even as an admissions counselor, back in the day, is that I would talk to prospective students and parents about how Drexel exists at the intersection of theory and practice, but that doesn't necessarily imply integration. And so when I got into this role about three years ago, that was one of my primary drivers was how do we begin to help our faculty understand that, in addition to the academic work that they're doing in the classroom, that a student's career development was just as important. How do we kind of bridge those gaps?
[00:13:06] Some of the things that we we've done to try to help our faculty understand what, what happens on the career development side of the house is data sharing as number one. Faculty, you know, are naturally researchers. They, they look at a lot of data and certainly it resonates with them. We, at the conclusion of every six-month co-op cycle, assess both student and employer.
[00:13:27] I was referring to this earlier in our conversation. So, students, as I mentioned, assess how they liked the co-op. They assess themselves on professional competencies. And on the flip side, the employers do the same thing. So, we can take a look at, the performance of our students, according to our employer partners.And we take a look at any gaps that they may have, whether that's in their essential skills or perhaps something, that is cutting edge technology or a cutting-edge practice that, that we potentially could find as a gap in our curriculum. And then sharing that back with our deans or associate deans and our faculty, just to inform their thinking.
[00:14:10] You know, I'm not saying that sharing that data would result in a, an entire overhaul of the school's curriculum. But I think it does inform curriculum so that we can really kind of stay cutting edge with our classroom, education and help our students bring that out into the workplace.
[00:14:31] So that's been a bit of a challenge, but I, I have found that over the last three years, faculty continue to embrace that more. Another thing that that we've done is we have partnered with the Office of the Provost that has a center for teaching and learning. And we've done with new faculty that come into the fray. It is the first thing we do to educate a new faculty member that may not be aware that you are educating students at a co-op school. And it's different, right? As a tenure track faculty member, so much of your time and energy is going to go into research, teaching your classes and then whatever service that you provide to, to the university.
[00:15:20] So there can be a little bit of tunnel vision in those first six or seven years in trying to obtain tenure. And I'm very mindful of that. So we try to pick our spots and how we educate faculty that we are a co-op school, that your students in your classroom may be coming off a co-op, and you may be able to leverage their experience on the job into a classroom discussion.
[00:15:43] And so we are really pushing that message. Some of the other things that we've done to help influence the university is to, help them understand the notion that classroom learning doesn't have to be just theory. Right? So experiential learning is not just co-op at Drexel.
[00:16:06] It's about bringing projects, from industry that can either be accomplished. In a classroom setting, or if it's a larger scale project that might go across six months, those could actually turn into co-ops as well through faculty and corporate guidance. This has been a big part of our partnership with another entity at the university known as the Drexel Solutions Institute (DSI), which launched, about a year and a half ago, I guess.
[00:16:40] The solutions Institute was launched in partnership with the Steinbright center to leverage the leverage the relationships that we have with industry, and to let them know that if they have a larger scale projects or problems that they would like to bring to the academy and have faculty lead student projects, that they can do that. And we would serve almost as a consultant to them. It allows again, real world experience and, engagement with a corporation without even being on co-op. And so, I think this supports the whole notion of kind of trying to integrate the two.
[00:17:29] We're getting there through, through those, those types of experiences. DSI is interested in working with organizations to solve business problems, to work with them on a collaborative research, potentially, depending on the organization. And, and then obviously the third leg of the stool, if you will, is Steinbright, which is to really be a developer of talent, to provide a talent pipeline to organizations. We're still in our infancy in terms of this partnership, but I'm very, very pleased at the results and beginning to kind of change the fabric of Drexel to bring this experiential learning into a classroom setting as well.
[00:18:22] Jim Stellar: [00:18:22] I was going to ask you about your greatest success. But I'm not going to do that because I think you just told me something that is one of your greatest successes. This is something that I would like to maybe come back to you in the future, and maybe do a whole podcast just on this center and this integration that you're achieving. Because it seems to be really something that's useful to the university as it has been known for centuries as a place of ideas and development of them and development of the students. And you're really using that idea development in a synergistic way. It's just absolutely fascinating.
[00:18:59] Jim Stellar: [00:18:59] So if it's okay, let me go onto my next question, which is a little bit long, but let me read it out to you and let's talk.
[00:19:10] it seems more and more attention is being paid to internships, apprentices, apprenticeships, et cetera. We hear about big government investments in Canada and our own federal government seems to be working on skills, documentation through something called the Learning and Employment Record, which I don't think we should discuss here, but let me just ask you sort of a broad envelope question.
[00:19:26] What do you make of all this focus on skills? Are, are you encouraged? Do you feel like the world is coming to Drexel? You guys knew this for a hundred years and now the world is waking up. What do you think about this movement?
[00:19:39] Ian Sladen: [00:19:39] Yeah. You're hearing about this more and more and, and, and I do think, that not only government, but, even the higher education in general is moving in this direction. I can't tell you how many, inquiries that myself or my team gets every month, from a school that's interested in adopting a co-op model and understanding that it cannot be just theory and push students out into the world and expect them to have a career, but that we really need to integrate the two.
[00:20:16] And as you, as you mentioned, you know, the great work that's being done by the national student clearing house and in conjunction with the U S department of commerce is a American workforce policy advisory board, you know, developing this, you know, shared language of skills and developing a learning and employment record.
[00:20:37]I, I just think is, is a, is a big step in the right direction. and it's even, it's akin to some work that, I've done here in Philadelphia in conjunction with the U S chamber of commerce. And so the chambers of commerce, across the United States last year had gotten involved in an initiative called the job data exchange or a JDX pilot. And not to go into a ton of detail, but what they were seeking was, again, this shared language of skills that, that we heard, that we heard earlier and how it helps both employers.
[00:21:18] and talent providers, right? Universities in developing this common language so that we have the right applicants applying for the right positions and that employers are best translating those skills in terms that makes sense to the, to the educational provider. So I was involved in that pilot, last year where we essentially took a look at a job description from an organization and then took a look at the same job description having run through the JDX a pilot.
[00:21:51] And what we found was that it was far more helpful in terms of translating the skills that employers are looking for, which in turn helps us best prepare students. So I think it's a step in the right direction. We're seeing more government grants in the United States revolving around, apprenticeships and I think finally the U S government is kind of coming around, and higher education, is coming around, to the thinking that co-op schools have had, many of which were for a hundred years.
[00:22:19] Jim Stellar: [00:22:19] So I just want to plug for a second are on podcasts. Because about a year ago we had a podcast with a guy named Frank CCO, who is the head of a company IQ four, which has mentioned in the learning and employment record, along with the national student clearing house and IBM. so, you can go back and look at that and, that, doesn't mention the learning and employment record, but it does talk about some of the things that you talked about from a technology point of view.
[00:22:43] How do you build the skills repository? How do you get universities and employers to work together? Again, it's something that's very familiar to co-op schools, but perhaps less so to other schools.
[00:22:53] So, I want to ask a final question before we run out of time, and that has to do with COVID. It's really changed everything. How are you coping, as an institution with COVID and particularly with the shift to this new virtual world, which looks like it might not go away when COVID goes away? It might be a lingering consequence of our current work. How are you coping with the virtual world emerging under COVID?
[00:23:20] Ian Sladen: [00:23:20] Yeah. So, I mean, I think you know, personally, I don't think I've had a good night's sleep and almost 200 days. But professionally and as an organization, I think Drexel has been known as a very entrepreneurial, and adaptive university.
[00:23:36] We've always been very flexible, and COVID-19 really provided us an opportunity to prove that. So as you know, just to give you a little bit of a framework in terms of the timing of all of this, as I kind of mentioned that the co-op cycles, and as the pandemic hit, and most of us, or many of us were we're switching to our own virtual environment. This occurred about a week or two prior, a week or two before the end of the, our spring summer cycle. And, excuse me, the fall winter cycle, and a week or two prior to the beginning of the spring summer cycle. So, we saw lots of students that had delayed co-op start dates. We had students that had positions rescinded.
[00:24:19] So there was a lot of scrambling as many institutions in higher ed or elsewhere, were trying to pivot, and help students, find new, new co-op positions if they had lost them or those, and certainly help those who hadn't landed co-op positions. But the things that we, we, we did were things that weren't on the table before.
[00:24:41] I would put really first and foremost, the approval of virtual co-ops. Right. And that is just something that we, as an institution had primarily avoided if we could, because, we always had concerns, you know, this being a learning experience, this is not a, you know, this is not a seasoned, employee, adult employee that's, that's entering the workforce, but someone that may be on their very first co-op as a, as a 19 year old.
[00:25:10] And, and so we always wanted to ensure that there was a supervisor in proximity and that if you wanted to grab coffee or pick somebody's brain, that you were on site and could do that. And, you know, can someone help me with this work issue that I'm having and all the mentorship that goes along with it.
[00:25:28] And, and so there was always a concern that in a virtual environment, we might not be able to accomplish that. And they, it, of course we, we were forced to, to pilot it and, and to try it out. And, and this is true in our own roles. I mean, I was not in a virtual role, but have been at home for six months now.
[00:25:47]and what we found by and large is that. It's working. it doesn't mean that they're. Yeah. it doesn't mean that there, there aren't challenges. I mean, we're, we're talking about organizations that are pivoting to a virtual environment and then having to virtually onboard employees, including young people and 1920, 21 years old.
[00:26:09] And how do you bring them into the fray. How do you on board, how do you get them to provide opportunities for them to network if they're not going to physically be there? So that that's, you know, that that was a big, big shift for us. And I'll be perfectly honest with you, and I've shared with others now that we've all, not all of us, given the nature of our roles, but now that a large percentage of Americans have been forced to work virtually and shown that it works. I don't see the genie being put back in the bottle here.
[00:26:47] Jim Stellar: [00:26:47] And you, could you talk a little bit about your graduation, successes with employment, in the last cycle where the students are graduated from Drexel and then went out into a COVID virtual world.
[00:27:02] Ian Sladen: [00:27:02] Yeah. So, I mean, those, those are students, you know, in their last, in their last co-op that are, that are entering a market now where they, they have had experience working virtually. And so, I think that's a really another tool to add to their toolbox that other co-op students previously hadn't had. So, I think they're going to be a little bit more adaptable, to a full-time role, if they begin virtually, because they have had that experience.
[00:27:30] Jim Stellar: [00:27:30] do your statistics show that they're still getting jobs the way they famously do when they graduate from Drexel?
[00:27:37] Ian Sladen: [00:27:37] Well, I'll be honest with you. That data is currently being collected by institutional research.
[00:27:45] So we're, we're still working on that and I'm not just not at liberty to, to put a number on it right now. Typically, nine months out is when we do our final measurement for that. But what I would say is this. Our students still have the advantage over non-co-op schools regardless of what the environment looks like right now. And so, I am very optimistic about the job prospects for Drexel students, given that they have the power of the co-op program and their professional network behind them.
[00:28:23] Jim Stellar: [00:28:23] And that says a lot because your job placement rates upon graduation, your jobs career success rate is in the 90% range. And that's something, the thing that most universities would die for and produces a nice selling point for you to attract students.
[00:28:40] Ian, I want to thank you for spending this time with this. I think we've come about to the end of our time. I have two or three ideas for follow-up discussions with you, and as always, it's just fascinating to talk with you sitting here in the catbird seat on a work integration academic program, with a hundred years of tradition behind it.
[00:29:02] But as you said, an entrepreneurial spirit to pivot into the modern world, which will be with us post COVID. So, thank you so much for, for being with us. if there's anything you want to add, let me give you the final word and then we'll stop.
[00:29:19] Ian Sladen: [00:29:19] Yeah. You know, I think the only other thing that I would add is this experience with COVID has really forced to solve, to be flexible, and that would be, that would be my advice to any institution of higher Ed, that is working, directly with employers is, is to, understand the need to be flexible.
[00:29:39] Those employers are also it's, it's not just higher Ed, right? Those employers are also going through, changes. And, and, and what we have found is that, those co-op employers that may have had to take a brief pause, from the co-op program. That really the focus for us in that interim period is to just maintain those relationships until, until those co-ops resume.
[00:30:03] Right. but beyond that, Jim, I, I just, I want to thank you for the opportunity to, to have to be on the podcast today. And I, I hope to participate in the future.
[00:30:12] Jim Stellar: [00:30:12] Well, thank you for that optimistic ending. We are all in this together and we will get through it. So, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
[00:30:20] Ian Sladen: [00:30:20] Thank you.
[00:30:21] Mary Churchill Thank you for listening. We hope you will come back soon for the next installation of ExperiencEd,
Adrienne Dooley: as we continue to talk about the neuroscience and sociology of enhancing higher education,
[00:30:35] Jim Stellar: [00:30:35] by combining direct experience with classical academic learning.