A Student’s Story: Northeastern’s Co-Op Program

If you ever want to talk to someone who is enthusiastic about the university he is attending, you should spend a little time with Ryan Bacon. Not only is he enjoying his collegiate experience, but he’s already able to recognize the value he is receiving from the path he has chosen at Northeastern University. We could say that it’s Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, but that would diminish Ryan’s experience, whose collegiate career will include stints in Boston, Berlin, Paris and, who knows, perhaps other points in the U.S. and abroad that are yet unknown.

Although those locales are attention-getting, glamorous international experience is neither the focus nor the highlight of Ryan‘s Northeastern experience. The real reason he loves Northeastern is its emphasis on what’s called experiential education, whose goal is to integrate classroom instruction with real-world experience. A mainstay of this philosophy is the university’s co-operative education program, which places students in businesses and organizations so that they can acquire on-the-job experience. The idea of co-operative education is to alternate semesters of academic study with semesters of full-time employment. For many co-op students, that means signing up for a five-year college program, which could work this way: years one and five as traditional academic years, and years two, three and four as co-op years that incorporate three six-month work placements. That is just one model, however, and there is no single set path. The semesters that are devoted to traditional academics are mostly spent at Northeastern’s Boston campus but can also include earning credits in one of dozens of programs abroad. Any way you look at it, there’s opportunity in abundance.

Ryan is in his second Northeastern year, but he actually spent his first semester in Berlin. Starting out as a freshman abroad might not be for everyone, but Ryan felt he could handle it. He had already had experience in living abroad, as he spent ages 12 to 14 living in Shanghai when his family moved there temporarily. Ryan is enthusiastic about students having a study abroad experience, saying it’s important that everyone be willing at times to step out of their comfort zone and experience something more of the world. He does comment that there was more of a transition upon returning than he expected: for one thing, he found it a little harder to integrate into the on-campus community because most people already had their friends and peer groups. However, that relative disadvantage was more than offset by the strong friendships he had forged in the Berlin program and by the experience in general of studying and living abroad.

Ryan is now fully acclimated to Northeastern’s home campus, and he shares his enthusiasm about that with every comment. He loves that Northeastern is in a big city but also loves that it has its own campus, offering the best of both the campus experience and the urban one. He loves that Northeastern is in close proximity to BU, BC, Tufts, MIT and Harvard. The concentration of college students in Boston creates a fantastic environment, one that is young, fun and engaging.

Ryan started out thinking that he would major in economics, but along the way, he switched to business. He has appreciated his professors and his classes, which he describes as great, but his real focus is on the co-op program because it gives students a chance to learn and enhance their skills, develop contacts, and – perhaps just as important in this competitive age –build their resumes. Upon graduation, these students are truly prepared for the world they’re entering, armed with both knowledge and actual working experience.

Ryan is currently in the middle of his first six-month internship, serving as assistant to the president of Reebok. In this position, he’s able to observe how things work in all aspects of that company’s business, which he knows is an amazing opportunity. He also knows that he has the option to apply to return to Reebok for his second six-month internship. When he looks ahead, however, Ryan is more focused on what’s coming up this summer. He has signed up for a condensed semester in Paris, where he will study the business aspects of the fashion industry, which has long interested him. Because of the condensed format, he will be in class as much as six hours a day, but he looks forward to what he knows will be another great and worthwhile experience.

Ryan is a natural ambassador for Northeastern’s co-op program – not only because he is having a fantastic college experience but because he knows he is building a foundation now that is equipping him to enter the work force when he graduates. He knows he will have the skills, the experience, and the resume to compete with the best when he is ready to apply for a “real” job. It won’t hurt to have a letter from the president of Reebok either.

Way to go, Ryan. You are indeed on your way!