Internal Co-op vs. External Co-op: Is There a Difference?
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Paul Ethier, a 20-year-old middler entrepreneurship major at Northeastern University, stands at the Information Center in the Curry Student Center on a busy Friday afternoon. In freshly pressed khakis and a slate blue button down shirt, he smiles as he chats casually with one of his employees.
Two floors above, Frank Grajales, a middler entrepreneurship and MIS major, sits at the scheduling desk, beside his employees, booking reservations for the student center meeting rooms.
Besides the obvious, what do these students have in common? They both are co-op students employed by Northeastern University. The co-op department places students in co-ops with outside companies as well as in positions within Northeastern.
According to Doreen Hodgkin, Senior Associate Dean for Administration in the Division of Cooperative Education, the university offers a variety of co-op jobs in most on campus departments. They range from jobs in the Registrar’s Office to the Admissions Office and Public Relations Department. There are also jobs in the Career Services Department as well as managerial positions and a co-op at WRBB, the campus radio station. There are only a few locations on campus, such as Lane Health Center, who do not hire co-op students for confidentiality purposes, Hodgkin said.
Ethier manages the Information Center and Game Room in the student center. He oversees 26 work-study employees and his tasks range from hiring and scheduling employees to running staff meetings to managing game room revenues and organizing tournaments. He makes decisions on what games and programs to provide in the game room.
Ethier said he was first attracted to the job because he enjoys arcade games and was looking for a managerial position. He thought the job would be a great way to combine his interests and to build his resume and did not think he could find a similar experience anywhere else.
Grajales manages the scheduling desk in the Curry Student Center, which is a busy hub responsible for all activities going on in the student center.
Grajales’ tasks include managing a work-study staff of 11, hiring and scheduling new employees, taking reservations for rooms and database entry. He also deals with and resolves conflicts with room reservations.
“To some people, I’m sort of a figurehead,” said Grajales.
Grajales first interviewed for a different position within the student center, but was offered the scheduling desk job instead. After speaking with his future manager he thought it seemed like a fun environment to work in, which proved true when he began working there.
Grajales said he was attracted to the fact that the department worked together closely as a team.
“The people I work with are the best part,” Grajales said.
Both Grajales and Ethier say they enjoy the perks of their jobs. Grajales enjoys paid vacation time while Ethier enjoys the convenience of the short commute.
Ethier said nothing can stop him from coming to work, “I don’t think a hurricane is to severe.”
Another aspect of their jobs both co-ops agree on is the amount of responsibility they have. Each of them will graduate from college with significant managerial experience. Ethier said the money is not great, but the experience makes the job.
Although there are many positive aspects to his co-op one thing Ethier said he has noticed is that people seem impressed with his job when he explains what he does without mentioning he works for Northeastern. However, when he tells people he works at Northeastern before he tells them what he does, they seem less impressed.
“At any institution I think students tend to stereotype,” said Hodgkin. “I have much more affection for my alma mater as the years progress than I did at the time I was there.”
Hodgkin said some people might think working for Northeastern is not as challenging as working outside of the university. She argues this is untrue.
“When you think about it, the university is a microcosm of the world,” she said.
Working for the university offers its own challenges as well.
“I think it’s harder to work at an institution when you’re at the other side of the desk of perhaps your colleagues, friends, and peers,” Hodgkin said.
Despite the stigma there tends to be about internal co-ops, Northeastern University is the number one co-op employer with over 400 students working in internal positions. Also, of students surveyed, in a survey conducted for this piece, only 30% of students who worked off campus for co-op continued working for the same company while they returned to class, while 66% of those who worked on campus kept jobs in the same offices.
Ethier said he has far more responsibility on this job than he did at his previous co-op job. For his first co-op Ethier worked at Braintree Laboratories, a company who makes and markets pharmaceuticals. At Braintree Laboratories Ethier was a line worker and his daily tasks included lifting boxes.
“The pay was more, but the responsibility was less,” he said.
Hodgkin said there are both pros and cons to working on campus. Some students feel like they are still at school when they work for Northeastern she said.
“I’ve had students who interviewed and came to work every day dressed in a professional manner,” she said. “I’ve had students dress the same way the dressed for class and then they wondered why they didn’t feel like it (co-op) was different (from class),” she added.
Hodgkin said one’s co-op job experience is based on their mindset and suggests it is as basic as what you put on in the morning before going to work.
One of the pros of working on campus, she said, is that some students have discovered they would like to work in higher education, where they might not have thought of it before.
According to Hodgkin another benefit to working on campus is that some jobs allow students who are unsure of what they want to do after graduation a chance to discover their likes and dislikes. Students who worked in the career services department were exposed to all fields and given a chance to figure out what they might like to do.
Ethier was not the only student to have a bad experience with an off campus co-op job.
“It was a waste of six months of my life,” said Alicia Savino, a senior behavioral neuroscience major.
Savino worked at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Office in Downtown Crossing for one of her co-op jobs. She has aspirations of running her own chiropractic practice, and wanted to learn the ins and outs of dealing with insurance. She was under the impression that her job at the medical office would help her gain this necessary experience.
One of the positions at the medical office was an insurance job. Savino said on the first day of work, her boss picked jobs for each of the new co-ops and she was not given the insurance one.
Instead of gaining valuable experience, Savino spent six months answering phones and filing papers in medical records.
“I really didn’t learn anything,” she said. Savino blames her co-op advisor for being “unorganized and incompetent.”
“For a school that’s supposed to have good co-ops they don’t hire good enough people for advisors,” Savino said.
Savino did not consider working for Northeastern because there were no co-ops offered in her field. However, if there had been she would have been interested.
John Silveria, Associate Director of Student Leadership, has supervised eight co-op students at Northeastern. He believes one’s co-op experienced is based on their position, manager, and what the co-op is allowed to do. He said some co-op supervisors do not invest enough time in the co-op and in turn they are not allowed enough independence
Silveria partially attributes his management style to one of his first work experiences when he was a student at Boston University. He had a co-op at Fidelity Investments and recalled the responsibility given to him by his manager. He also referred back to his former position as assistant director of the student center. He had been possessing work-study payroll which was taking him about five hours a week.
“If an undergrad can run this system, let them,” he said.
From then on, a part-time or work-study undergrad student processed payroll.
“We have much more of a responsibility to the students towards their learning,” said Hodgkin, who said she loved hiring co-op students when she worked in career services.
She called the co-op workers “walking sponges,” and said they offered a different perspective than other employees.
“When (non co-op) staff members say, ‘this should work,’ co-ops say ‘this won’t work and this is why,’” Hodgkin said.
Julianne Goodfriend, a middler at Northeastern wishes she could have had a co-op at Northeastern.
“ I would take one if they had them for pharmacy majors,” Goodfriend said.
Last fall Goodfriend had a co-op at CVS in West Roxbury. By car the commute was only 10 to 15 minutes, but on most days she took public transportation. She had to take the T and the bus, which made for an hour and a half commute.
“I think it’s really good they have co-ops here (at Northeastern) for people who can’t, or don’t want to commute,” she said.
Goodfriend said she does not think there is a difference between internal and external co-ops.
“You have to find the one that is right for you,” she said.
Although she would have liked a co-op job that was closer to campus, she felt what she learned on co-op was invaluable. She was able to learn what life would be like after college.
“It was eye opening,” said Goodfriend.
Working as a pharmacy technician she preformed tasks such as prescription data entry, counting pills, stocking pharmacy shelves, calling doctors and occasionally working the cash register. During her co-op she gained more and more responsibility, Goodfriend said, and after four months she was beginning to train new employees on her own.
“Now I have a good concept of what goes on in a pharmacy,” said Goodfriend
She also said she was happy with her job and found the people she worked with to be good role models. Goodfriend said she Northeastern because of the co-op program and she thinks everyone should take advantage of it.
Of students surveyed 65% have taken advantage of co-op. Of the students who have not gone on co-op 71% are at least considering going on co-op once they have more credit.
Despite people’s mixed feelings on internal and external co-ops, of all students surveyed who had been on co-op, 69% rated their overall experience a four or better on a scale of one to five.
No matter where a student does their co-op, “A quality co-op is a quality co-op,” Hodgkin said.