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Cooperative Education program puts students into the world

Dr. Derek Graff stands with his cooperative education student, Steele Brimhall, in his dental office.

The Cooperative Education program at Fort Lewis College bridges the classroom and the workplace for students seeking to deepen their learning and prepare for the professional world.

And for those students, Cooperative Education also helps them cross that bridge -- from college to career.

"Cooperative Education provides students the opportunity to apply concepts and skills learned in the classroom to 'real life' employment situations," says Cooperative Education Coordinator Lauren Delle. "Students also gain valuable work experience in a chosen career field that can be included on their resume."

Working with each Cooperative Education student one-on-one, Delle connects students with educational and engaging internship opportunities that give them practical, hands-on experiences working on-site at a business, while receiving guidance, understanding and insight from a professional mentor there.

Students in internships develop communication and teamwork skills, boost their leadership abilities, gain technical skills, and establish contacts that begin career networking. Also, through course offerings that parallel each student's internship, those experiences are also related to an academic and career plan, assuring each student earns the most value from the experience.

During internship semesters, students between their Sophomore and Senior years can take up to 12 credits of Cooperative Education classes as electives, while exploring career options, strategizing career paths, and sharpening their professional skills.

The Cooperative Education courses and internships are available fall, winter, and summer terms, and are open to all majors.

For more information, contact Cooperative Education Coordinator Lauren Delle at or (970) 382-6936, or visit

Steele Brimhall
Senior//Biology major//Farmington, New Mexico
Cooperative Education Internship: the dental offices of Derek J. Graff, DMD

During his co-op, Brimhall gets hands-on experience
in the lab and with patients.


I’m planning on going to dental school. The hands-on experience of working in a real dental practice -- working with patients, making appliances, getting a firm understanding of dentistry and orthodontics — all of that is really valuable. That has confirmed my desire to become a dentist and go down that path.

In the Cooperative Education program, you find out what your talents are and utilize those talents. It gives you good experience to figure out if you want to go a particular route. The co-op classes really helped me critically think about my work experience, rather than just go there and work every day.

Working with Dr. Graff and the things I’ve learned through this co-op have really added a lot to my educational experience.

Co-op mentor: Derek J. Graff, DMD
Dentist//Farmington, New Mexico

It’s been really enjoyable for me to teach someone who is eager to learn and wants to know these things. Working as a lab and chairside assistant, Steele did many of the things my assistants do. We have five assistants and a lab person. He’s our fireman, so wherever there is a fire, we put him on it. 

Steele does assisting with patients quite a bit. When we're working with patients, I also like to explain to him where they’re at, and how our treatment will affect their circumstances. Steele also has been a great help in our lab. Most offices outsource their lab work. But having Steele sets us apart. We have another doc’s office in town that sends some of their lab work to us for him to do because they were unhappy with their lab.

Since Steele has decided to go to dental school, I know this internship has been a great opportunity for him. I think he is miles ahead of where I was when I was in his position.

Joseph Miranda
Senior//Art major//Fort Collins, Colorado
Cooperative Education Internship: Adam Field Pottery, Durango, Colorado

Miranda spends time behind the wheel
as well as learning how the
studio functions.


You would be surprised what you need to know about pottery to succeed. Pottery requires a lot of skill sets, and I need all these skill sets. The co-op internship has probably been the most hands-on experience I've had in college. The studio was always changing, things were being moved around and stuff. And I was doing work for a whole studio. That’s been huge for preparing me for a career.

While this specific internship taught me a lot, it also gave me a well-rounded experience of what it’s like to be an artist. Not just in making pots, but how to sell them, how to talk to customers, how to market yourself in the pottery world, how to apply to galleries, how to take photos of your work, too.

The Cooperative Education coursework has been really great, too, to reflect on what I did, what I need to do. And since I got credit for it, I was able to take fewer classes and focus on the internship experience. And thanks to the connections I made working in the studio, I may soon have the opportunity to do a residency program in Napa Valley, California, under a renowned artist. That’s a big opportunity for me.

Co-op mentor: Adam Field

FLC Art Department alumnus (Art, 1999)//owner, Adam Field Pottery, Durango, Colorado

I wanted to work with the Cooperative Education program because when I was a student at Fort Lewis, I also worked doing production pottery for a potter in Durango. From that, I learned that hands-on experience can be so much better than just learning in class. I think any time you can get into the real world and it is outside of that academic realm, it'll make your transition from college into the real world that much smoother.

I had Joey start at the very basic level. He split wood to heat the studio. He recycled unused clay, smashing it up and reworking it. I had him help me put up shelving and streamline the studio to make it a lot more functional. Then I slowly had him create a studio line of pottery. And through those experiences, he’ll gain the techniques to express clay in his own way. He’ll have the building blocks through his experience at my studio.

Now, I’m able to look at Joey and see that he’ll come out of his schooling with that much of a leg up on what he can do. If he is able to pick up on what it is really like to do this for a living, instead of just the academic side of what it’s like, that will be a valuable experience for him.

Adam Field of Adam Field Pottery, with his co-op student Joseph Miranda.

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