Co-op program was a life-changing experience for engineering student
“The co-op program has been a big factor – it changed my life. It got me on track and they do so much more than that,” says Scott Pokorny.
Finishing up his bachelor of science degree in the Faculty of Engineering, Pokorny was this year’s Co-operative Education Student Champion Award recipient. The news of the award took him by surprise.
“I was shocked,” says Pokorny when asked about his reaction upon hearing the news. “It was not understated there was a really wide group of eligible students. There’s some brilliant people at the university and I was shocked to hear that I was at the top of that.”
Pokorny started at the University of Manitoba as a student athlete on the U of M’s swim team. Despite earning direct entry into engineering he says he felt a little bit out of place in the faculty. His confidence was low and at first he had doubts about being able to finish.
That all changed in Pokorny’s third year at the U of M. His swimming dreams began to sink due to injuries. Realizing it was time to try something new and even though he never had a job, he joined the co-op program.
The advisors Pokorny worked with translated his jobless summers – spent training and competing in swim meets across the country – into sellable experience on his resumé. This resulted in three co-op offers for his first placement.
“I never had a job, never written a resumé, didn’t know how to do an interview, and they brought me right in and told me I have a lot of experience. They’ll set you up no matter what your background is coming in. So I would tell anyone regardless of grades or anything, how hesitant you are, absolutely go for it,” says Pokorny.
In addition to resumé and interview preparation, the co-op program also teaches students like Pokorny how to look for jobs, how to make connections and network and what to do after graduation.
For his first co-op placement Pokorny accepted the offer from the U of M. Thanks to his supervisor and hydrology professor, Dr. Peter Rasmussen, Pokorny was able to develop his programming skills that would greatly attribute to his success in his second placement.
Pokorny caught the eye of his supervisors at Manitoba Hydro. He was assigned a flood forecasting project that was supposed to take weeks to finish. With some custom programming – a skill obtained from his first co-op placement, Pokorny was able to complete the project in a few days.
“Because I was so good with this programming stuff, the skills I gained from my other job – they actually turned over the stream flow forecasting to me because they were having a lot of problems with it,” says Porkorny.
He was then given more responsibility and asked to expand the programming he did and submit reports on his progress and the flood forecasting he generated. In about three weeks Pokorny wrote and built an entire flood forecasting application, automating the whole process. What once took up to three hours was now done in 15 to 20 minutes. Other departments within Manitoba Hydro began to request his help as well.
“The application was designed specifically for that one project but it could have been easily applied to other ones. That’s where I ended up getting my undergrad thesis out of because that’s what I’m doing – I’m setting it up to apply to other forecasting models so I could be looking at saving them several hours,” says Pokorny.
At the end of the co-op placement with Manitoba Hydro, his supervisors wanted Pokorny to keep working with them. They realized however, that there was a brighter future ahead so they encouraged Pokorny to continue into graduate studies.
“This became a really big thing for me. It drove me into looking at flood forecasting which is what my masters degree is going to be focused around, using programming and, bringing in that engineering judgement and using the two to improve forecasts,” says Pokorny. “It’s been really exciting.”