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Overseas co-op placement provides life-changing experience

Dodson is pictured above in Stoos, Switzerland.

A life-changing experience wasn’t exactly what Dustin Rivard was expecting when he embarked upon a co-op placement as a test engineer in a bearing department.

The mechanical engineering student jumped at the chance to work in Germany for a year with the Schaeffler Group, a global automotive and industrial supplier, figuring it would be a great opportunity to work and travel.

“I rave about this opportunity to every engineering student I know,” says Rivard BASc ’17. “First, I tell everyone they need to do co-op; It provides you with the connections that help you get the career you want, not to mention just giving you experience. Second, the chance to live and work in another country for a year turned into an incredible, life-changing experience.”

The Schaeffler Group co-op partnership with the University of Windsor, established in 1998 by the Faculty of Engineering’s Dr. Peter Frise, is one of many unique industrial relationships at UWindsor that offers students education that goes beyond the traditional classroom. Since its inception, more than 200 engineering, business and computer science students have ventured to the company’s German headquarters in the small town of Herzogenaurach in central Bavaria to gain 12 months of real-word experience. 

Frise says sending students to Schaeffler and other employers in Germany has been one of the most rewarding initiatives he’s worked on at the University of Windsor.

“It has given so many of our students a chance to live and work abroad and learn a new language as well as hone their technical skills with top-notch companies,” says Frise. “Many of them have gone on to full-time employment and built rewarding and challenging professional careers, which is really the goal for us here at the University of Windsor.” 

In 2019, the 20-year partnership was recognized with an award by the German-Canadian Association (DKG) — a non-profit organization that aims to promote economic, cultural and interpersonal relations between Germany and Canada.

Rivard said he easily transitioned into his career after graduation thanks to his rigorous training at Schaeffler and landed a job within the company’s product development department in Troy, Mich.

But working across the river wasn’t enough. Rivard wanted to return overseas. 

“I realized I wanted to come back to Germany; I loved the country so much — especially the people and automotive focus,” he says while sitting in his apartment nestled in a small Bavarian town lined with cobble-stoned paths and bustling cafes.

Rivard’s Canadian wife joined him when he accepted a job back at Schaeffler’s headquarters, leaving friends and family behind and carving out a life abroad together. When Rivard isn’t busy designing thermal control systems that help reduce vehicle emissions and improve fuel economy, the couple spends their time traveling across Europe.

Lucas Dodson, a third-year industrial engineering student, just completed his co-op placement in Schaeffler’s advanced development department where he assisted in the project management and testing of some of the company’s latest initiatives, such as e-mobility, mechatronics and material development. 

“One of the best parts about working for a large company abroad is getting to learn about and experience a whole new culture in the professional world,” he says. “Another great part is how much Germans value a strong work-life balance. This means flexible working hours, no after work calls and more vacation time per year than most North Americans could hope for in their entire working life.” 

Starting with 30 days of paid vacation, Dodson has explored more than 20 countries in just under a year. He’s also learned German through language training provided on the Schaeffler campus. 

“I’ve seen some of the world’s most beautiful and historic places,” he says. “Being able to visit places so rich with culture is a priceless experience.”

Kristen Morris, UWindsor’s manager of co-operative education and workplace partnerships, says the Schaeffler work abroad experience is truly transformative.

“Students come back forever changed; more open to new cultures and able to see their life and career through a new lens while gaining a year’s worth of paid, relevant work experience at an organization that is committed to student learning and growth.”

This article was featured in the latest issue of WE, the Faculty of Engineering’s annual magazine.

WE is distributed annually to alumni, students, faculty, staff and industrial/community partners of the faculty. If you would like to receive WE electronically and UWindsor Engineering’s quarterly e-newsletters, join the faculty’s mailing list.