INA – The second Rend Lake College student to be named Co-Op Student of the Month is right in her element, thanks to the Cooperative Work-Study Program at the college.

Stephanie Reid, 25, of Mt. Vernon, is a Pre-Med major at RLC with her sights set on becoming a microbiologist. Through the Cooperative Work Study Program in RLC’s Center for Business Services, she has landed a job at the Applied Research Development Lab (ARDL) in Mt. Vernon.

Her work allows her to get her hands dirty while helping Mother Earth. At the lab, Reid conducts experiments, runs soil samples and can “wash glassware like nobody’s business,” she said.

ARDL works closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that soil, food products and many other things are free of contamination, she explained.

The news from Cooperative Development and Employment Services Director Jenny O’Daniel that she had been selected as the Co-Op Student of the Month caught her off guard, Reid said.

“I was shocked,” she added. “I should have played the lottery that day. I didn’t even know that this honor existed. [O’Daniel] said to me, ‘Oh, by the way, you are the Co-Op Student of the Month.’ I’m like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ It really is proof that hard work pays off.”

Reid said she enjoys working with the people at ARDL almost as much as the work itself.

“The people are great,” she said. “They are really nice and great to work with. And we are working to help the environment. I get to fulfill college credit and my need to be a hippie.”

She joined the Co-op Program in late September and is in her final semester at RLC. She is enthusiastic about Zoology Professor Larry Williams’ microbiology course and Instructor Paul Sandrock’s inorganic chemistry class.

“Sandrock – he rocks,” she said. “ Microbiology is my favorite. That class is awesome. The Pre-Med program here is good. It’s challenging and I like challenging.”

One amazing part of Reid’s path to success is her ability to juggle coursework, a position at ARDL, working as a massage therapist on the side and raising her three children – all under 5 years old. She lives with them in Mt. Vernon. The oldest will turn 5 in December, the middle child will be 4 in May and her infant will turn 2 in April.

Believe it or not. Reid is used to it.

“I had four jobs, but I had to let two of them go. I was working for the college doing Community Education coordinating when my grades began to drop. I had to give up a few things because I had taken on too much. You always think you will be able to do it, but when people tell you that you may want to drop some things, you should listen. It can end up being a lot more challenging than you think.”

She added that O’Daniel has been a big help when things get hectic.

“If I need something, she has been there,” Reid said. “She got me headed in the right direction and is keeping me on track. She is a pleasure to work with.”

“Stephanie has a great personality and is a very hard worker,” O’Daniel said. “I chose Stephanie as the Co-Op Student of the Month because of her strong desire to want to work. She even took the initiative to contact ARDL prior to even meeting me. In addition, I know she has children and is working not only this job, but another one, and is enrolled in 21 hours this semester.”

Reid became a certified massage therapist at Bodyworks School of Massage Therapy. She now has regular clients that she serves in the area by going to their homes and providing some soothing therapy. But, science has always been her calling.

“I was the kid who would always ask “why” after every single statement,” she explained. “You are never going to run out of “whys” with science because there is always going to be a new discovery and a new disease. There is job security and job opportunity. People will always get sick. And, whether it is in the food service industry or working for Budweiser, microbiologists are needed in just about any service that has a need to keep the public safe.”

Her boyfriend, Andy Gasper, has mentioned moving to Atlanta – where the Center for Disease Control is located – after they graduate from SIUC, she said. She is transferring into SIUC’s microbiology program and he is already there, majoring in economics.

Growing up in Mt. Vernon and graduating from Mt. Vernon Township High School in 1999, Reid always had a plan to come to RLC and transfer to SIUC, she said.

“I’ve grown up in the area and I’ve always been introduced to Rend Lake College. It has always been my plan to go here and then to SIU. It just took a few more years than I expected. But, I am getting it done. The plan is in action,” she said with a smile.

Reid had been trying to get a job at ARDL when the Co-Op Program at RLC became her proverbial foot in the door.

“I was trying to get a job at ARDL and they were just looking for a Co-Op student. I went through the Co-Op Program and was hired. I must have plugged away at them, once a week, for about a month before I joined the Co-Op Program and was hired.

“I’m exactly where I want to be right now,” she said. “I love science.”

For decades, cooperative education – commonly referred to as co-op, on-job training or internship – has been a method of instruction that provides an opportunity for students to be employed in their fields of study and earn college credit for their work.

At Rend Lake College, the Cooperative Work-Study Program is designed primarily to enable Education and related majors a chance to practice in their chosen fields. However, the program is open to all majors, although it is preferred that the student have a chosen major.

There are currently 47 students in the co-op program at RLC. Since it became state-grant funded a dozen years ago, approximately 950 students have gone through the program, according to Ed Ruffino, Director of the STARS program at the college.

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