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Conference highlights co-op benefits, preparedness of students

Coursework that simulates real-word work experience is crucial to preparing undergraduate students for their post-college callings, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing, according to Susan Ambrose, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and experiential learning at Northeastern.

That’s where co-op comes in.

Ambrose delivered welcoming remarks on Tuesday at the seventh annual Employer-Partner Conference, which was attended by 170 employer representatives. Northeastern’s Department of Cooperative Education and Career Development hosted the conference, which was held in the Curry Student Center ballroom.

During her address Ambrose touted the ways in which co-op “fosters and contributes to the intellectual growth and development of our students,” as an extension and supplementation of Northeastern’s curriculum.

“Co-op provides students the opportunity to apply knowledge and practice skills in authentic real-world situations,” Ambrose added. “But with all the contextual idiosyncrasies and unpredictability that entails.”

Co-​​op is the signature program of Northeastern’s experiential education model, which combines rigorous classroom learning with real-​​world work experience. Last year, about 9,000 students participated in co-ops in 37 states and 90 countries, said Maria Stein, associate vice president for cooperative education and career development.

Co-op, Ambrose explained to attendees, gives students the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills they learn in one context and transfer them to another context, whether from the classroom to their co-ops or vice versa.

“The transfer of knowledge and skills into a new context is one of the most sophisticated intellectual activities human beings engage in,” Ambrose said.

Both Ambrose and Stein noted that co-op’s success can be attributed in part to the exceptional employers with whom Northeastern works. The university counts nearly 3,000 co-op employers worldwide.

“I think a lot of co-op’s success has to do with how you are working with our students and the opportunities and challenges you present to them,” Stein said in her welcoming remarks. “Co-op works because it’s educational and you partner with us to deliver that education.”

Alan Clayton-Matthews and Alicia Sasser Modestino, associate professors in Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, gave the conference’s keynote address.

Their talk focused on the college labor market and how the state of the economy, both in Massachusetts and nationally, affects job market trends. Clayton-Matthews pointed to data from the American Community Survey showing that during the worst of the Great Recession in 2009, the unemployment rate for young workers in Massachusetts with a college degree was a little more than 6 percent, while it was about 10 percent nationally.

“Having that college degree protected you,” Clayton-Matthews told the attendees.

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