Cooperative Education/Internships

The Co-op Experience

Contact People Cal Poly Co-op/Internship Program Coordinator:
Michael Lucas and Arlene Gomez

California Polytechnic State University,
Cal Poly Architecture Department College of Architecture and Environmental Design
One Grand Avenue,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0282
Email: Michael Lucas
Email: Gomez
Phone: 001 (805) 756-1316
Web page:

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The co-op is a type of field experience in a particular area of interest to a student’s professional career goals. The co-op is tied to academic credit so that the experience is more than "work-for-hire;" rather, it is a workplace-based opportunity supported by observations and reflection by the student on their experience. While co-op students must be paid for their position in a firm or office in order to receive university credit, the experience is intended to bring academic as well as financial benefits to the student.

Cal Poly recognizes the benefits of work experience to shape and refine a student’s career goals and created the co-op program to assist students in making this work experience into an opportunity for reflection as well as action. The university’s specific requirements for a co-op experience, including a calendar and forms, can be found at the Cal Poly Cooperative Education web site. The following supplemental guidelines have been developed in order to expand on the university procedure for the co-op and specifically address the needs of architecture students seeking credit for work experience related to their career goals.
For a listing of available co-op's please go to the Opportunities web page.

Starting A Co-op

All co-ops should begin with a meeting between the student and the Faculty Co-op/Internship Program Coordinator. Students should come prepared to the faculty advisor meeting having already reviewed university co-op forms and either having a co-op firm selected or be seeking advice on potential placement in a firm. Once the co-op firm has been selected, students must complete the Architecture Student Agreement Form, including employer information and bring it to the co-op faculty advisor. Once the form is completed by the advisor, the student can register for either ARCH 485, if working less than thirty (30) hours, or ARCH 495 if working thirty hours or more. Credit for ARCH 485 is either four (4) or eight (8) units for working from 10 to 30 hours per week (approximately 1 additional unit of credit for each additional 5 hours of work). Credit for ARCH 495 is twelve (12) units for full-time work (more than 30 hours per week).

ARCH 453 Architectural Design, credit available through Co-op Education time

It is now possible to substitute units from ARCH 495 Cooperative Education Experience for Fourth Year Design Studio requirements. Students must work for 30 hours minimum each week to qualify. Five units may be transferred from the ARCH 495 to the five units required for ARCH 453 Architectural Design 4.3. This may only be done for one quarter. All criteria for the Cooperative Education Program must be met. Please see the link to the Department Cooperative Education Program web site:

Co-op Course Submittals

Co-ops are “Credit/No Credit” courses. Successful completion of the course is dependent on the submittals outlined by the university co-op program on their web site (referenced at the beginning of this document). In summary, the student needs to submit the following. The forms below must be sent electronically to both coordinators.

  1. Work information form identifying the co-op firm;
  2. Monthly progress reports (submit at the end of each month);
  3. Supervisor’s evaluation of your performance in the firm;
  4. Student (self) evaluation at the end of the co-op experience; and
  5. Co-op Report as defined below.

In addition, the faculty advisor will conduct a debriefing at the end of the co-op experience and evaluate the student’s submittals in order to assign a grade. The first four submittals (a)-(d) above are completed using forms coming from the Cal Poly Cooperative Education web site. The co-op report which does not follow this pattern must be written and composed by each student. The report represents a core summary of personal and professional experiences in the workplace. Moreover, because architectural careers involve visual as well as written expression, the department has placed emphasis on the use of visual and written material in shaping the student’s final report. The Co-op Report for architecture students must consist of three parts: (1) a journal, (2) a thematic paper, and (3) a sample portfolio. The three can be fully integrated into a single document, can be presented as three chapters within a document, or can be separate documents. The document(s) must be 8-1/2” x 11” created with a page layout program (e.g., InDesign) and submitted in PDF format. The content of each part is explained in more detail below.

Journal: The journal is a weekly summary of your personal reflections on your experiences on a day-to-day basis in the firm. The approximate length of the journal is one page per week, more if necessary to adequately describe the experience.

Thematic Paper: Cooperative experiences are reliant on students being placed “in the field”. Therefore, the report on the work experience is based on fieldwork rather than library research. The paper is not a chronology of events or activities. It is meant to be a meaningful, reflective summary of your experience in the firm. The paper can expand on aspects of practice relating to the firm’s operation that include client-architect relationships, design technology, economics of practices, and so on. Students are encouraged to add illustrations (sketches, photos, or drawings) to their paper.

Sample Portfolio: In addition to a thematic paper and journal, students must present selected graphic examples of work done during the co-op in the firm. The portfolio should include reference to the Internship Development Program (IDP) criteria as outlined in the NCARD IDP 2.0 framework. For more information please go to: NCARB web site. Students must also include a CV as part of the portfolio.

Download an Example Co-op Report (pdf) (2.7MB) by Ryan H. Ahmadi.

Completing A Co-op

Although the university has broad oversight of the co-op program, most interaction during the program takes place between three parties: the co-op student, the firm or office, and the faculty advisor. All reports completed by the student and their supervisor are submitted to the faculty advisor, not the Cooperative Education Office on campus.

During the 9th week of the quarter, students should make an appointment to see their co-op faculty advisor. Schedule the appointment to occur during the last week of the quarter or finals week. This is considered the co-op “debriefing”. At the time of the debriefing appointment, the student should present their materials (Journal, Thematic Paper & Sample Portfolio) and be prepared to discuss their experience. Based on an assessment of the completed submittals, the faculty advisor will assign either a "credit" or "no credit" grade. If a student needs additional time to complete their submittals, the faculty advisor can record a temporary grade of “RP” (Report in Progress). The grade will remain until the work has been finalized and the debriefing takes place. University regulations dictate the amount of time available to complete the course in order to receive a grade change. This is currently one-year for undergraduate students. Any "RP" grade not cleared within one year will automatically revert to an "F" grade.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I perform a co-op for two or more quarters in a row?
    Yes, but there is a maximum of 16 credits allowed for the co-op experience counting towards graduation.
  2. Can I get IDP (Intern Development Program) credit?
    Yes, please see IDP 2.0 at the NCARB web site for more information.
  3. Does the architecture department have its own forms to complete?
    No, the architecture department provides guidelines to help students with their final submittals, but this requires no additional paperwork.
  4. What if I go on vacation during the co-op such as during the summer quarter?
    Students must complete an average number of hours/week for the co-op experience. If an absence is necessary, the student should record the time out of the office and the reason for the absence in the journal as part of the pattern of record keeping.
  5. Does the co-op course fulfill any department requirements?
    Yes. Credit given for the co-op can be used to fulfill Professional Electives, and 4th year design studio.
  6. Does a co-op in the architecture department have to be in an architect’s office?
    No. There may be other settings that are applicable to career exploration for architecture students. For example, positions related to design-build or architectural education may be acceptable. Check with the architecture department’s co-op faculty advisor to determine if a particular work setting is appropriate to the co-op experience.
  7. Can I get credit for fourth year design studio for more than one quarter?
    No. Students may only substitute credit from ARCH 495 for one quarter of fourth year design studio. Five units will be taken from ARCH 495 and substituted for ARCH 453. Students will enroll in a specially designated section of ARCH 453.

Co-op Submittals Checklist

  1. Architecture Student Agreement Form
  2. Work Information Form
  3. Progress Report Form (submit to faculty advisor at mid quarter)
  4. Student Evaluation (self evaluation)
  5. Supervisor Evaluation
  6. Co-op Debriefing and Co-op Report (Journal, Thematic Paper & Sample Portfolio)


Co-op Documents