A high-touch approach to high-tech co-op
With a career at Sheridan spanning nearly four decades, Advisor of Cooperative Education Frances Burke is known around campus simply as Fran. And to some employees and students who have been fortunate enough to work closely with her she is better known as “SuperFran.” She is responsible for assisting approximately 300 students a year in Information Technology-related programs at Davis and Trafalgar Campuses find co-op placements to fulfil curriculum requirements. Not only is managing the volume of placements a feat, she provides individualized attention throughout the process to ensure students excel in work placements.
Successfully placing a student for co-op is a multifaceted responsibility. Fran provides one-on-one resume and cover letter reviews, performs mock interviews, ensures students upload the proper documentation for each application, checks in with students and employers throughout a placement, and ensures evaluations are completed. Some students apply for tens of jobs before securing one and have up to three co-ops during their time at Sheridan. Repeat the above process a few hundred times in one year and it’s no wonder how Fran got her nickname.
“Fran is an expert in her field and people at the college appreciate her dearly” – Matthew Rempel
“Fran is an expert in her field and people at the college appreciate her dearly,” says Matthew Rempel, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Sheridan. Her expertise has been cultivated from her own experiential learning of sorts. She studied political science in university and worked briefly as a bank teller and in accounts receivable at Sheridan in the early 1980s. Shortly thereafter she moved into education and training and through practical experience has grown into a departmental leader with institutional wisdom and a wealth of experience.
The ever-changing IT landscape perpetuates on-the-job learning. “With co-op programs coming on board like Information Systems Security and Mobile Computing you need to explore new opportunities in those industries,” says Fran. “The divergent interests of students also expands the breadth of opportunities we need to find.” An entrepreneurial-minded student may want to work at a start-up while another may want to work in the tech department at a bank. She has also noted differences in how students straight from high school approach co-op compared to mature students, and similarly with domestic and international students. No matter their diverse needs Fran has strategies for helping students succeed, whether it’s techniques and training or just lending an ear.
“Employers come to rely on us. If they urgently need a co-op student to fill a job they pick up the phone and call me” – Fran Burke
From the employer side, Fran provides exceptional customer service for each workplace contact. While many postsecondary institutions rely on an online portal to manage placements, she believes that her job is made easier by establishing a personal connection and has experienced the benefits of this approach. Notably, she built a relationship with the Royal Bank of Canada from the ground up and it is now the biggest employer of Sheridan students. “Employers come to rely on us,” she explains. “If they urgently need a co-op student to fill a job they pick up the phone and call me.”
Perhaps the most rewarding part of her job is seeing the students who were once anxious about their co-op interviews leave Sheridan with the confidence and tools to set out in their careers. “I really feel like I have made a difference in a lot of cases,” says Fran. Some students whom she advised 15 years ago have since made their way up the corporate ladder and now reach out to her for help in finding co-op students to employ. “It comes down to trust and people seem to know that if they turn to Fran she will see things through,” says Cory Latimer, Manager of Co-op at Sheridan and Fran’s colleague.
When asked about what keeps her excited to come to work after 34 years Fran says: “It’s never boring and no two days are the same. And it doesn’t hurt that my students are a lot of fun and I work with a great team of engaged individuals who collaborate and share best practices.” She has heard from many of her students that they chose Sheridan because of its renowned co-op programs. With a growing number of students under her advisement and an established group of employers eager to work with them, it’s safe to say that she has played a direct role in establishing this reputation.
Pictured at top of page: Co-op Advisor Frances Burke. Photo by Sheridan Photography Technologist Owen Colborne.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Manager, Communications and Public Relations at Sheridan.
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