Lakeland University Blog

Student uses Co-Op, flexibility to graduate early

Student uses Co-Op, flexibility to graduate early


Student uses Co-Op, flexibility to graduate early

When Ellie Cecci left Lakeland’s main campus after her freshman year for a job opportunity in her home state of Georgia, she feared she would have to choose work over school and leave a campus she loved behind.

Thanks to Lakeland’s Cooperative Education program and multiple ways to access coursework, Cecci is on target to graduate in May 2024 as a Muskie. She will complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology in just three years with significant professional experience as she heads to graduate school in Florida.

Cecci followed a friend from Blairsville, Ga., to Wisconsin and Lakeland in the fall of 2021 and she quickly fell in love with being a Muskie. Initially a biology major, she assisted the biology faculty in the Chase Science Center labs and she landed a job working with athletic training. She became a member of the Phi Delta Omega sorority and was making the most of her Lakeland experience.

When she was offered a job as a phlebotomist back home at Union General Hospital in Georgia, she made the difficult decision to leave Lakeland after one year and chose work/making money over school.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I loved the professors I had, and I knew it wouldn’t be the same. I thought I would have to choose between work and my education, and I knew to reach my end goal I needed a college degree.”

Thanks to Lakeland’s flexibility and the Co-Op program, she didn’t have to choose.

After a semester at another school, Cecci discovered that she could be a Muskie from afar. She enrolled in online courses, and learned from her advisor, Maria Fields, how she could earn academic credit on the job through the Co-Op program.

She initially earned credit working as a phlebotomist, and again in her current role as a registered behavior technician for the Elevation Autism Center in Alpharetta, Ga., a job she started last August. By the time she graduates, Cecci will have earned 15 credits through Co-Op, completing a full semester on the job.

Co-Op is allowing Cecci to work full time, maintain a class schedule that will allow her to graduate early and start paying off her student loans.

“I wanted to graduate early, and this was the perfect way to do it,” Cecci said. “It has taught me a lot about time management, budgeting and helped me a lot financially. I have an apartment and a new car. It’s got me in a position where I can live comfortably and finish my degree at the school I want to attend.”

In her role as a behavior technician at Elevation Autism Center, Cecci implements care plans, including teaching children basics like identifying objects and having conversations, along with feeding and changing younger ones.

“We’re teaching them the skills they need to go into a kindergarten classroom with peers who don’t have an autism diagnosis,” she said.

She initially planned to apply for medical school, but her latest venture motivated her to enroll in graduate school. This August, Cecci will begin the master’s program in behavioral analysis at the Florida Institute of Technology.

“I fell in love with the kids I was working with,” she said. “I grew so much in that month and felt I did good work. I’m in the field I need to be in, and I love what I am doing.”

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