Co-op opportunities lift international students’ career prospects and confidence – Faculty of Engineering

Co-op opportunities lift international students’ career prospects and confidence

McMaster Engineering alumni Adetutu Ajayi and Mehedi Newaz Khan
McMaster Engineering alumni Adetutu Ajayi (left) and Mehedi Newaz Khan
By Matt Dodge

When it comes to co-op, McMaster Engineering alumni and former international students Adetutu Ajayi and Mehedi Newaz Khan, support it wholeheartedly.

“If there’s one thing that you can do, especially as an international student, go for a co-op experience,” Ajayi says confidently. Khan agrees, saying, “I definitely think co-op is the right path.” 

Both cite their co-op experiences as an important stepping stone that placed them on the path to the successful careers they enjoy today. 

Ajayi, originally from Nigeria, started at McMaster in 2006, graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering and Management. She completed a 16-month co-op experience as a Health, Safety and Environment Systems Technician at pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi is a longstanding employer of McMaster Engineering’s co-op program, having hired more than 150 students since 2011.

Khan, originally from Bangladesh, started at McMaster in 2015, graduating with a degree in Mechatronics Engineering. During his degree, he signed on for a 12-month co-op with Advanced Micro Devices as a Radeon Technology Group Validation Intern. AMD has been hiring McMaster Engineering co-op students since 2011. More than 380 students have completed co-op experiences with AMD, who have also supported the Faculty through active participation and sponsorship of events and associations on campus.

Adetutu Ajayi and Mehedi Newaz Khan, former international  McMaster Engineering students
Alumni Adetutu Ajayi (left) and Mehedi Newaz Khan during their time as McMaster Engineering students.

Boosting confidence 

While in-class learning remains a key part of an engineering education, there are certain transferable skills that can’t be taught in a lecture. Confidence, for example, is often built through experiences as students grow to understand their own capabilities. 

In the beginning, I did feel overwhelmed. But as time went by, and with the support from the AMD team, I knew I would be able to handle whatever was thrown at me. I think school did a great job of getting me ready.”

Mehedi Newaz Khan

As part of her co-op with Sanofi, Ajayi was encouraged to step out of her comfort zone by leading workshops and delivering work-specific training. “Developing those interpersonal skills was a key element for my success. It really boosted my confidence,” she says.

Experiencing the Canadian workplace

For international students, boosting their confidence also occurs through getting valuable experience in the Canadian workplace. Ajayi and Khan are both quick to highlight the value of this exposure.

“In my culture, when you’re talking to people that are older, there’s certain mannerisms which might come across as reserved or shy in a Canadian culture,” Ajayi explains.

Khan experienced similar anxiety. “I wasn’t really sure how to present myself in a work environment. The first couple of months were very daunting.” 

A welcome tour offered to international students by McMaster Engineering staff that highlighted certain cultural norms, helped Khan get better situated. “One thing that really stood out is that in Canada people make eye contact, smile and nod their heads when someone is speaking,” he says. “That’s something I didn’t know, and I found that very helpful.”

Opening new career paths

A co-op experience can lead to post-graduation employment with the same organization. This can benefit both the student and the employers, as a great deal of time has already been invested in training and building professional bonds. After completing his internship with AMD, Khan found himself in that very situation.  

“Even before I left, my employers wanted me to come back full time,” he says. “My manager couldn’t keep me on the same team, but he helped me find another job at the software team within the company. I’ve been with them ever since.”

After Ajayi completed her 16-month co-op experience, she focused her attention on new opportunities in the engineering field and was hired by agricultural chemical manufacturing firm Nutrien. After 11 years with the organization, she has progressed to the role of Senior Manager, Environmental Footprint. 

Ajayi credits her co-op with having a direct impact on her hiring at Nutrien.

The co-op role was comparable to a full-time, real job. It gave me work experience, tangible and transferable skills to put on my resume, and it was why I was able to land a new role within the engineering field once I graduated.

Adetutu Ajayi

McMaster’s Engineering Co-op & Career Services (ECCS) team supports students with employment preparation and career readiness, connects students with employers and provides opportunities for students to gain meaningful experiences.

Through flexible, paid co-op experiences, students can secure placements four to 16 months in duration depending on their year of study. Learn more about co-op at McMaster Engineering.