Northeastern University celebrated the co-op accomplishments of 17 high-achieving seniors on Wednesday afternoon at the 45th annual Outstanding Cooperative Education Awards.
The winners worked for a range of prestigious labs, nonprofits, startups, tech firms, government agencies, and financial institutions, from Apple and Walt Disney World to Liberty Mutual and the U.S. embassy in Quito, Ecuador. They applied classroom concepts to real-world problems six months at a time, harnessing their academic acumen to improve lives, build products, and shape ideas.
“Our goal at Northeastern is to equip our graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful throughout their entire life,” said Susan Ambrose, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and experiential learning. She was addressing a capacity crowd in the Curry Student Center Ballroom, a group that included proud moms and dads who had provided crucial support to their accomplished loved ones as they navigated the working world in cities as far-flung as Rome and Santiago, Chile. To these, the awardees, Ambrose declared: “We couldn’t be prouder of you and we have no doubt that you will lead lives of fulfillment and accomplishment.”
The ceremony began with a two-minute video clip in which all the winners extolled the virtues of co-op, calling it a life-changing experience that has expanded their academic horizons, shaped their career paths, and prepared them for the real world. Co-op is the signature program of Northeastern’s experiential education model, through which students pursue opportunities with more than 3,000 partners in 131 countries worldwide.
Many of the student awardees have already secured jobs at their former co-op employers. Computer science major Josh Caron will be returning to Apple to work on the iOS diagnostics team as a software engineer, while chemical engineering major Emily Spence will be returning to Genzyme to work in one of the biotech company’s new labs. “Because of the co-op experience, I feel much more prepared to tackle what’s next in my life,” said Caron, CIS’16. “My co-op experience gave me the chance to put the skills I learned in classes to the test and prove myself in industry.” Noted Spence, E’16: “What I like most about the co-op program is the experience that it’s given me both professionally and personally.”
For the second consecutive year, the ceremony highlighted the winners of Northeastern’s annual Coolest Co-op Video Contest, which challenged students to create a two-minute video showcasing why they’ve scored the coolest co-op in Northeastern’s history. Elena Crouch, E’19, placed first; John Syzonenko, S’19, placed second; and Gwendolyn Schanker, AMD’18, and Sage Whipple, DMSB’18, tied for third.
The event was hosted by Maria Stein, associate vice president of cooperative education and career development. She announced all of the award-winners, citing their myriad accomplishments in fields ranging from finance and education to technology and engineering.
Three students received named awards. Victor Cruz, SSH’16, received the Paul M. Pratt Award, which is presented to the student who best demonstrates exceptional personal and professional growth as a result of his or her co-op experiences. Cruz did two of his three co-ops with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is currently exploring the possibility of launching a social enterprise before enrolling in law school. “I brought back what I learned on my co ops to the community,” the political science major explained in one of seven additional video clips that were played throughout the event to highlight the accomplishments of the award winners in each college. “I didn’t only benefit as a student, but as a community member as well.”
Peter Dzaugis, BHS’16, received the Thomas E. McMahon Award, which is presented 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. As a physical therapy major, he did one of his two co-ops with the Tunaweza Children’s Center, a nonprofit in Uganda dedicated to empowering children with special needs.
Farhana Hussain, SSH’16, received the William Jefferson Alcott Jr. Award, which is presented to the student who best utilizes his or her academic training in a creative way to make a positive contribution to society while demonstrating exceptional achievement in cooperative education. Hussain completed co-ops with the International Center for Journalists, the NATO Defense College, and the Atlantic Council, a trio of global experiences that she plans to parlay into a full time job in the nation’s capital. “Without the support of Northeastern, I wouldn’t have any of my co-ops,” said Hussain, an international affairs major. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to move to Rome or go to D.C.”
Fourteen students received Outstanding Cooperative Education Awards, including two from each of Northeastern’s seven undergraduate colleges. Among the winners were Andrew Barba, CIS’16, Catherine Erdelyi, S’16, and Rose Leopold, SSH’16, all of whom have either lined up entrance into esteemed graduate programs or secured jobs at their former co-op employers.
Barba worked on co-op as the software developer for Tablelist and is excited to return to the nightlife startup as the company’s lead engineer. “Here at Tablelist, I’m seeing the full spectrum, everything from fundraising to hiring,” said Barba, a computer science major. “It’s been the full startup rollercoaster and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Erdelyi worked on co-op with an eye toward becoming an actuary, honing her skills at John Hancock, Air Worldwide, and Liberty Mutual. Next month, the mathematics and business administration double major will return to Liberty Mutual as an actuarial trainee, marking the latest step on her career journey. If not for the co-op program, she might not have landed the prestigious position. As she put it in the two-minute video clip, “My favorite thing about the co-op experience was how much responsibility we were given.”
Leopold worked for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the U.S. embassy in Quito, Ecuador, two experiences that made the political science major the ideal fit for Northeastern’s Master of Science program in Security and Resilience Studies. As she begins the next phase of her academic journey, her advice to students looking to make the most of co-co-op is simple: “Take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll be happy you did—and at the very least, you’ll end up with a good story.”