April 14, 2008



Mandy Brottem, Cooperative Education Specialist, 657-1717
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Co-op education experience mixes academic theory with real-world understanding


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — There’s no mistaking it; Gillette Vaira exudes optimism. Whether it’s a broad smile and a friendly greeting to fellow college students or through her eagerness to learn, there’s a sense of buoyancy about her that’s hard to miss.


That characteristic that makes Vaira a quality student at Montana State University Billings also made her a good fit for an internship with the March of Dimes.


Gillette Vaira“Gillette was a spark of light in our office from the moment she came in,” said Donovan, the local non-profit’s local director. “She exemplifies the spirit of going the extra mile.”


Donovan said non-profit entities make up a large part of the business world and exposing students those opportunities is an important aspect of higher education at MSU Billings. And, she said, had Vaira not been “the kind of intern who took her job seriously,” then a special March of Dimes project last fall would not have succeeded.


Those character traits led to further recognition recently when Vaira was one of four MSU Billings students recognized for their achievements, professionalism and contributions to local businesses and organizations as cooperative education interns.


The co-op education program at MSU Billings is a partnership with a host of businesses and non-profit organizations in the area that allows students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios. Long-term relationships are also often developed and interns can sometimes find jobs with companies with which they have interned. Many of the internships are also paid, so students can also earn while they learn.


Last year, 245 students took part in a cooperative education experience through MSU Billings. Those students not only earned a combined 893 credits, but were paid an average of $10.83 an hour. A majority of those experiences were with the 153 employers in the Billings area who participate in the program.


While MSU Billings offers high quality education from eminent faculty, the civic, retail, finance and medical learning lab that sits all around the university in the form of the Billings community is priceless, leaders say.


“When students start here as freshmen, I challenge them to take advantage of the best laboratory we have to offer, which right here in the city of Billings,” said George White, provost and interim academic vice chancellor at MSU Billings. “We have right here what no other institution in this state has to offer.”


Vaira was one of those students who jumped at the chance.


A junior communications major from the small town of Lambert in northeastern Montana (she was one of nine in her graduating class), Vaira wanted the full university experience. Not only did she get involved in the MSU Billings Chamber Singers, Jacket Student Amabassadors, Students Against Destructive Decisions, the Yellowjacket cheer team and the Residence Hall Association, she jumped at the chance for an internship.


With the March of Dimes, she was put to work organizing a fall volunteer leadership conference. She contacted speakers, did publicity for the event and handled most of the details in the planning.  And when the entertainment plans fell through, she sang for the group.

“It was neat to apply what I’ve been learning in class,” she said. “It can be a lot of work, but was really fun.”


Donovan said non-profit entities make up a large part of the business world and exposing students those opportunities is an important aspect of higher education at MSU Billings. This was her first experience with an MSU Billings intern.


“This was such a positive experience, I’d love to do it again,” she said.


Other students honored as 2007 Cooperative Education Students of the Year were:

Carl JonesCarl Jones, an Auto Tech major from Fromberg, was nominated by Mel’s Auto Clinic and College of Technology instructor Vern Gagnon. Gagnon said “Carl has been a leader in his class, both during academic activities and social interaction with other students.  He has continually and willingly contributed to the betterment of the Automotive Technology program and is an asset to Mel’s Auto Clinic.”  Since his internship, Jones has continued to work at Mel’s Auto Clinic. He will graduate in May 2008.



rebekah CarlsonRebekah Carlson, a business major, was nominated by Billings CPA Colleen Black. She said she has hired interns before and they have been very successful. Her experience with Carlson was no exception and said “Bekah is a stellar employee and I look forward to having her intern next semester as well.  Her ability to apply what she has learned in school is outstanding.  I have been able to assign her projects without excessive oversight and she has performed in excess to what has been expected. Carlson is a junior from Billings.



Aurelia LangAurelia Lang, a senior human services major from Billings, was nominated by Montana Community Services, Inc., a local group home. “Aurelia was able to establish proper working methods with our six clients, four of which have very different and demanding mental illnesses. She was nicknamed “Real One” by a client who reinterpreted her name “a-reel-ya” to “Real One.” It’s a good name, because Aurelia is a “real person. She brought something special to this internship.” 

For additional information regarding the Cooperative Education program, contact, Mandy Brottem, Cooperative Education Specialist, at MSU Billings at 657-1717.