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As we enter the month of November with so much out of the ordinary happening around us, I find it comforting to focus on the good as often as I can. November is National Gratitude Month after all, so it’s all the more reason to keep a positive attitude. Today I’d like to focus on one of the most important things we do at D’Amore-McKim and something for which I’m most grateful: our fantastic cooperative education (co-op) program.

Northeastern University was a pioneer in establishing the co-op learning model within the United States, and we have maintained leadership in this space for over a century. It allows students to very purposely alternate between periods of academic study and six-month immersive work with our employer partners. This model has stood the test of time because it builds a powerful connection between the theory taught in our classrooms and real-world career application. Dr. Carl Ell, an early Northeastern leader who played a significant role in the growth of cooperative education, referred to the company supervisors as “the faculty in the field” – a testament to our enduring philosophy that experiential learning in professional settings is key to developing impactful leaders.

While the original model was met with resistance and opposition, Northeastern leaders persisted because of their core belief that fusing academic rigor with practical relevance benefits both students and employer partners. From an original enrollment of eight students with four Boston co-op employers in 1909 to more than 10,000 annual placements in partnership with 3000+ employers in over 100 countries, we have indeed come a long way. Today, D’Amore-McKim students complete at least one co-op and the vast majority complete two during the course of completing their undergraduate degree program.

Developing and maintaining valuable and engaging partnerships with employers is an essential feature of the program. Our Co-op Coordinators work closely with employers to identify talent requirements that align with both their business needs and student learning outcomes – a critical reason why we have maintained such strong relationships over time. In the “Origin and Development of Northeastern University, 1898-1960,” it was interesting to read that Co-op Coordinators have been doing this for years, often personally visiting area partners once during every 10 weeks, regional companies twice per year, and far away firms likes ones in Michigan and North Carolina annually.

Students reap the benefits of co-op

Following intensive preparation that develops their self-awareness, these co-op engagements provide students with opportunities to deeply experience the relevance of what they’re learning in their classes, converting abstract knowledge into implementable concrete insights. By actively engaging with a prospective profession, they have the chance to figure out whether they want to pursue it in the long-term. If the fit is off, they still have an opportunity to change their academic direction. Students on co-op learn to collaborate and engage in teams, problem solve and think critically, become comfortable with ambiguity, manage expectations and deadline, and communicate effectively – all foundational skills for any successful profession.

Upon graduation, they’re then ready to make an impact on a company from day one and, hence, become invaluable to employers. This sentiment about the career readiness of our students is validated by our alumni who, in a survey for the most recent Poets&Quants undergraduate business school ranking, helped D’Amore-McKim rank second in being “prepared for the world of work.”

To hear directly from our students about their co-op experiences and the impact they’ve had on them, please watch these recent videos featuring May 2020 graduates.

It’s beneficial for employers too

So why are our employer partners so enthused by our co-op program? The business case is very strong. First, it’s a highly cost-effective way to identify and engage superior talent and develop a pipeline to future employees with no “finder’s fee.” Our diverse student body that hails from 100+ countries outside of the U.S. is both entrepreneurial and culturally agile – nearly two-thirds of them participate in a global experience while at Northeastern. Even students doing their first co-op are well-prepared for work on their very first day, because their required “Professional Development for Business” course equips them with the skills to navigate the workplace and engage in meaningful self-discovery.

Employers also gain access to future talent with modern business knowledge and skills. With a fresh perspective, innovative mindset, and measured confidence in their abilities, our students are well versed in working in both the physical and digital worlds. They’re also fully supported during their entire co-op and career development journey by their Co-op Coordinator who is an educator, a coach, and a mentor throughout their years at Northeastern. As a testament to the value of the co-op program as a talent pipeline, 60 percent of our students obtain fulltime offers from at least one of their former co-op employers.

Co-op is a real differentiator for Northeastern. D’Amore-McKim students rate the co-op experience among the top reasons they choose to learn here. And because the future of work demands highly prepared professionals well versed in multiple disciplines, we know this tried-and-tested experiential learning model coupled with our humanics-infused curriculum is a potent combination for developing successful and impactful leaders. I’m extremely thankful to the D’Amore-McKim co-op faculty and staff for building upon and sustaining our strong legacy in this domain through their student- and employer-centric engagement. I would also like to extend my deep gratitude to our employer partners around the world who are highly supportive of our experiential learning model. 

Raj Echambadi
Dunton Family Dean
D’Amore-McKim School of Business

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