For most University of Wisconsin-Stout students, the spring semester pivoted quickly March 23 when face-to-face instruction was replaced with alternative learning methods because of the coronavirus.
For 111 of those students, however, alternative learning already was a reality. They were in a co-op experience off campus but earning academic credits in a work setting applying to their major.
As of April 1, 104 of those 111 students still were in their co-ops. Of the seven whose co-ops ended, two were international and required to return home by UW-Stout while the other five students were at Disney, which closed its theme parks because of the pandemic.
Career Services, which manages the Cooperative Education Program, has been able to continue most of the co-ops through strong communication with employers and extra efforts by both sides, according to Bethany Henthorn, coordinator of the co-op program.
“These open lines of communication, targeted e-mails and collaborative approach have allowed our UW-Stout students, employers, professors and support services like our office to continue to provide seamless support to our students on a work experience,” Henthorn said.
“The students were notified quickly to touch base with their supervisor and follow company protocol as employees of the company. This information provided direction and reassurance that all of the changes on campus were not directly impacting their work experience. Our office was also able to deliver direct communication to each and every on-site supervisor to provide them with UW-Stout campus updates, support and ideas on how to transition an ‘intern’ to an online role if needed,” she said.
Career Services will continue to monitor each student’s co-op situation with regard to safety and employer protocols.
More than 1,000 UW-Stout students participate in co-ops each year, most of them in the summer, through about 600 employers.
One of the unlucky — but still somewhat lucky — co-op students was Sam Klobucar, of Beloit, a junior majoring in golf enterprise management. He was enjoying an “amazing” co-op at exclusive Kauri Cliffs golf course in northern New Zealand.
“It’s an incredible program for anyone who wants to go into the golf business. We have great professors who love the game like we do. We get to go to amazing courses for internships,” he said.
Then, he heard from UW-Stout that he had to come home for his safety. Based on his family’s advice about the unfolding virus situation, he already was preparing to return if needed.
On Friday, March 20, three days after the edict from UW-Stout, he began the 16½-hour flight from Auckland to Chicago and arrived without an issue. He thanked Career Services and UW-Stout’s Study Abroad program from the Office of International Education.
“They were so great to work with. They were ready to answer any questions if I needed help with anything. They booked the flight back. I can’t thank them enough for being super helpful,” Klobucar said.
He was on the last direct flight out of New Zealand to Chicago. Had he missed it, he might have landed in Los Angeles and been detained, he said. “UW-Stout made it very comfortable to make the transition out of New Zealand.”
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Still pleased with experience
Klobucar started his co-op in November, which is late spring and the start of peak golf season in New Zealand, and was scheduled to finish May 13. He still will get his co-op academic credits for the experience, which includes filing reports with his program adviser, John Sobota.
Kauri Cliffs is one of two resort courses in Matauri Bay, New Zealand, owned by Robertson Lodges. Both courses closed March 26 because of the virus.
Kauri Cliffs is ranked the 43rd best course in the world by Golf Digest magazine.
Klobucar was glad to return home given the uncertainty of the situation but was sad to leave New Zealand. At Kauri Cliffs, a cliffside resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, he was an assistant pro who handled daily golf operations duties, working with other interns and clientele from around the world.
“People were awestruck how beautiful the course is, absolutely spectacular. It was one of the best experiences of my life, working under the head pro and the people were incredible. It was a very welcoming and friendly environment,” he said.
Klobucar, a member of UW-Stout’s men’s golf team but who took off the 2019-20 season for the New Zealand experience, previously had co-op positions at two of Wisconsin’s most exclusive courses, Sand Valley and Erin Hills.
He hopes to become a head golf pro and/or general manager of a golf operation as his career progresses. He’s glad he chose to UW-Stout to make it happen. He is pursuing a minor in business administration.
“The GEM program can take you almost anywhere,” he said.
He has a part-time job this spring at Geneva National, a 54-hole resort course in Lake Geneva, about a 20-minute drive from his home in Beloit.
Klobucar tees off on the seventh hole at Kauri Cliffs, a resort golf course in New Zealand where he had a co-op.
Klobucar shows off a kingfish he caught while in New Zealand.