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Tackling global challenges through experiential learning

Co-op awards
Seniors were lauded for their exceptional co-op experiences at Northeastern’s 41st annual Cooperative Education Awards ceremony, held on Thursday.

Chemistry major William Smith’s research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute led him to co-author an article published in the scientific journal Nature. Mechanical engineering major Alexandra Unger helped develop an instrument that measures carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and whether the compound originated organically or from industry pollution. Biology major Megan Kassick discovered a passion for global health while working at an Indian orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS.

These student experiences — and many others — were highlighted at Northeastern University’s 41st annual Cooperative Education Awards ceremony, held Thursday in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

The awards, established in 1971, recognize seniors who have had outstanding participation in the co-op program, the cornerstone of the university’s experiential-learning model that now places nearly 7,000 students in 85 countries worldwide. Recipients are nominated from Northeastern’s undergraduate colleges by co-op faculty coordinators.

In video interviews shown at the ceremony, students described particularly meaningful aspects of their co-op experiences. Twenty seniors were recognized at the event, five more than last year — an increase that Fred Hoskins, senior director of Central Co-op Education Services, attributed to the exceptional group of students who were nominated.

“These are truly extraordinary students and extraordinary stories,” Hoskins said.

One of those students, political science major Matthew Cournoyer, worked for Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) as a legislative intern. In his co-op video interview, Cournoyer described drafting a floor speech for the congressman. Through the entire co-op experience, he said it felt incredibly rewarding to make meaningful contributions to the nation’s government.

“I had a real opportunity to be engaged in the world of politics in a way I hadn’t before,” said Cournoyer, who was named a 2011 Truman Scholar, an honor that recognizes students with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, the nonprofit sector or other public service.

Environmental science major Alyssa Pandolfi used co-op to pursue her interest in sustainability in three completely different realms – higher education, urban agriculture and scientific research. In her third co-op, at the U.S. Department of Commerce-Marine Fisheries, she joined a project through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to accompany researchers on a two-week survey of the ecosystem dynamics of fish populations in the Atlantic Ocean.

In her video, she described the often-chaotic process of sorting fish by species as they quickly moved along a conveyer belt on the ship’s deck. “The fish would just start coming, and it wouldn’t stop,” she said, laughing. “But overall, it was an amazing experience.”

Full list of awardees:
Alexandra Unger, a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering, won the Thomas E. McMahon Award, given to the student who clearly displays outstanding integrity and character combined with a high degree of devotion and commitment to serving the needs of others throughout his or her co-op experiences.

Matthew Cozzolino, a health sciences major in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, won the Paul M. Pratt Award, conferred on the student who best demonstrates exceptional personal and professional growth as a result of his or her co-op experiences.

Tyler Denniston, a computer science major in the College of Computer and Information Sciences, won the William Jefferson Alcott Jr. Award, given to the student who best utilizes his or her academic training in a creative way to make a positive contribution to society; who demonstrates exceptional achievement in cooperative education; and who accomplishes goals beyond the requirements of the university curriculum.

The following seniors were recognized with Outstanding Co-op Education Awards: Emily Batt, Nicole Beres, Kara Chiccarelli, Matthew Cournoyer, Cynthia Desir, Christopher Hoogewerff, Megan Kassick, Kathleen Kurtz, Kimerbly Masi, Bethany McEleney, Elise Murray, Alyssa Pandolfi, Skyler Pressman, Demetris Roumis, William Smith, Abby Wagner and Matthew Walsh.