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Coloured pencil drawing of a student holding a piece of paper and seated in front of a green mechanical typewriter and a red rotary telephone.
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Of Pies, Nuclear Plants and the Early Days of Co-op Education at U of T

Co-op started by launching grads into government – exactly as the program’s founders intended

Glenn De Baeremaeker remembers feeling like a fish out of water when he walked into the Ontario premier’s office for the first time in 1981. He was there to start what was then a relatively new addition to a U of T Scarborough degree: a co-op work term. “I was just a kid from a working-class family in Scarborough, so never in a million years would I have gotten a job in the premier’s office without a co-op placement.”

His role in the communications department included responding to letters from the public on everything from Ontario’s nuclear plants to then-Premier Bill Davis’s favourite pie. “That experience had a huge impact on my life and really started my journey into politics,” says De Baeremaeker, who worked for years as an environmental activist before being elected to Toronto’s city council in 2010. 

It was the possibility of encouraging more university-educated young people to work in government that prompted Professor Ralph Campbell to start a co-op program in public administration at U of T Scarborough in 1975. Campbell, an economist and the principal of Scarborough College (as the campus was known), had observed a need for renewal in Canada’s public sector and felt this would benefit the country.

The task of finding placements for students fell to Jon Dellandrea, who was Campbell’s executive assistant and de facto co-ordinator of the new program. Dellandrea, who would later become U of T’s vice-president and chief advancement officer, travelled across Ontario to meet with government employees to find jobs for co-op students. In the first year, 25 students enrolled, each paying an extra $20 for tuition.

Nearly 50 years later, U of T Scarborough is recognized as a leader in co-operative education in Canada, boasting programs in about 50 different subject areas and an annual enrollment of almost 4,000 students, divided broadly between management and arts and science.

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