As a freshman, Tom Akins, IE 74, worked a co-op with grocery chain Colonial Stores. After a brief career in banking, Akins came back to Tech, running the co-op program. With the program turning 100 this fall, he’s taken time out of retirement to plan the centennial.
What made you decide to do a co-op? My older brother Ken, CE 70, was a co-op, and that’s how I learned about it. We were the first in the family to attend college, and our circumstances meant we had to pay for our educations. Necessity was a great motivator.
What did you get out of that co-op experience? I got money! Without it, I’m not sure I would have made it. The best lesson I learned was how to work with people from a variety of backgrounds.
Why did you come back to Tech? By 1976, the recession was forcing many employers to cut back. A number of us [at First National Bank of Atlanta] were fairly new hires, so our positions were in jeopardy. I saw an ad for assistant director, Cooperative Division. I sent in a resume and, within two weeks, I had interviewed twice and had given my notice to come work at my alma mater.
What has surprised you most about how the program grew from 1970 to today? I’m not sure I envisioned the program expanding globally.
What have you liked most about the job? The belief that somehow, in a small way, I contributed to the education of many students.
What would surprise people about the program? In 2002 we expanded co-op and formed the Division of Professional Practice, the umbrella organization for experiential learning. Each year, about 9,000 students engage with the office and earn well over $30 million.
What’s the most interesting co-op a student has had? Jobs have ranged from working in sewers, battling cockroaches and rats, to repairing tiles on a space shuttle. One company that makes personal watercraft sent students to St. Augustine to test boats out, all expenses paid.
What’s on tap for the centennial? The highlights include a co-op birthday bash on Sept. 18, a co-op brunch during homecoming and we’ll install a time capsule in the Savant Building. This summer we will release a commemorative book and video. In the spring of 2013, we plan to inaugurate the Co-op Hall of Distinction’s first class.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned about the program? The author of our commemorative book learned President Matheson ran a pilot co-op with one student on the sly. When he appointed a committee to study the feasibility of co-op in 1909, he already had proof it could be done!
What do you hope the program looks like in 2112? I hope it’s routine for students to work in all the world. We may even have co-ops working around the galaxy.
Want to celebrate the co-op centennial? Visit coop100.gatech.edu and share your co-op memories in the comments.