Northeastern honored a group of extraordinary seniors on Thursday afternoon at the Cooperative Education Awards, an annual ceremony highlighting students who’ve demonstrated outstanding accomplishments on their co-op experiences across the globe.
In opening remarks, Susan Ambrose, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and experiential learning, noted that “co-op both complements and supplements our academic curriculum by enabling students to enact the knowledge, skills, and perspectives they have in authentic contexts, which helps to deepen and strengthen their knowledge.”
Students, Ambrose said, bring what they’ve learned on co-op back to the classroom to enrich their own learning and that of their classmates. She added that faculty, advisers, and co-op employers play a vital role in the co-op program’s success.
Co-op is the signature program in Northeastern’s century-old experiential education model, which combines rigorous classroom learning with real-world work experience. Nearly 8,000 students were placed on co-op in the 2012–13 academic year; between 2006-07 and 2012–13, students were placed in experiential-learning opportunities—including co-op, study abroad, and research—in 114 countries.
Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, congratulated the students and presented them with their awards. “You’ve worked hard and we’re very proud of your accomplishments,” said Director, noting that many seniors will begin working full-time jobs and enrolling in prestigious graduate school programs immediately after graduation. “Our students being recognized today—and in fact all of our students—have demonstrated exceptional professional growth as a result of their co-op experiences.”
The event began with a video featuring interviews with the student awardees as well as faculty and co-op employers. Students described how their co-op experiences provided valuable knowledge to bring to the classroom and research projects, improved their confidence in themselves and their work, and provided an opportunity to explore new cultures, interests, and entrepreneurial endeavors.
“Co-op got me to see the real-world application of what it is I’m learning,” said Nate Bessa, CIS/DMSB’14, a computer science and business combined major whose co-ops included developing tools for biochemists to help identify biomarkers for disease and developing software to help increase productivity at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “I got even more excited about being in the classroom because now I can really see why I’m learning what I’m learning.”
The awards were established in 1987. Maria Stein, associate vice president for cooperative education and career development, introduced this year’s awardees and described the outstanding co-ops and other accomplishments throughout their Northeastern experience. Of the 17 students honored, three received special named awards.
Bessa received the Thomas E. McMahon Award, which recognizes a senior who displays outstanding character and integrity combined with a high degree of devotion and commitment to serving others through co-op.
Emily Tebbetts, CAMD’14, a communication studies major whose self-founded photography business served as her third co-op, received the Paul M. Pratt Award, which recognized a senior who demonstrates exceptional personal and professional growth through the cooperative education program.
Chemistry major Elise Miner, S’14, who developed her own co-op in Northeastern’s Center for Renewable Energy Technology, received the William Jefferson Alcott Jr. Award, which recognizes a senior who utilizes his or her academic knowledge in a creative way to make a positive contribution to society and demonstrates exceptional achievement in cooperative education.
Fourteen students received Outstanding Cooperative Education Awards, including physical therapy major Lillian Nelson, BHS’14, who developed a co-op as an international research assistant at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where she worked with a physiotherapist on a research project related to childhood obesity. Rachael Tompa, E/S’14, a mechanical engineering and physics combined major, worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as part of the Thermal Technology and Fluid Systems group.
With many students in the audience set to launch their careers, one speaker reflected on how co-op prepared him to succeed. Stephen Olive, E’87, MBA’96, now the group chief information officer for Royal Philips, completed three co-ops at the defense and government electronics firm Avco Textron Systems from 1983 to 1987. “I look back on this as the most important foundational elements of my career. It taught me discipline, it taught me how to be successful, and most of all it taught me that if you perform flawlessly and constantly your managers will recognize and respect you for it,” Olive said.
Addressing the student awardees directly, he added, “This is a launching pad for your careers.”
The Northeastern experience gives students a career edge after graduation. Ninety percent of 2012 graduates were either employed or enrolled in graduate school nine months after graduation, while 87 percent of graduates with jobs were employed in fields related to their major. What’s more, 51 percent of 2012 graduates who worked on co-op were offered a job by a previous co-op employer.