Co-op Program Mixes Real-World, Classroom

Matthew Connolly started working in e-commerce when he was 14 years old. He built his own business from the ground up, using his garage at his childhood home in Troy, New York as a warehouse to resell grocery coupons and brand-name athletic gear. The experience grew out of an early interest in supply chain management, and when he’d grown a little older Connolly applied to over 20 colleges to study business, ultimately choosing Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Matthew Connolly. Courtesy photo

Connolly chose Northeastern, he says, not only because it offered him a full-ride scholarship but because of its co-op opportunities and departure from traditional practices, with a heavy focus on entrepreneurial and creative instincts. “I was not someone who wanted to go to college and change my major a bunch of times,” he says. “I wanted to get the most out of the experience and be impressive and land a job after I graduate.”

THE CO-OP EXPERIENCE AT NORTHEASTERN

Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business curriculum requires students seeking an undergraduate degree to take two courses aimed at preparing them to run a successful co-op in the professional world. As freshmen, students take Planning for Business Co-op and Careers, and as sophomores they take Professional Development for Co-op.

Northeastern’s co-op program is more than 100 years old and has established relationships with more than 2,500 employers across the U.S. and in 80 countries. Each year 55% to 65% of students are offered a job as a result of their co-ops, says Mary Kane, assistant dean cooperative education at D’Amore-McKim.

“What truly makes co-op at Northeastern unique is that it is an integrated part of our academic program.” Kane says. “When the students go out on their various co-ops and return to school, their experiences are brought directly back into the classroom.”

Northeastern invites guest speakers, alumni, and upperclassmen to visit with first- and second-year business students to help guide them through their first co-op. Each student is assigned a co-op adviser who assists students in understanding proper coaching and training for job interviews, building a resume, and selecting the right job for each student. “The advisers also refer appropriate students to employers who meet their hiring needs, facilitate the interview process both on-campus and at the various companies, and assist with on-campus branding, marketing, and career education activities,” Kane says.

CO-OP FROM A STUDENT’S PERSPECTIVE

In many ways Connolly is the ideal candidate for the co-op model of learning. The company he started as a teen evolved, around his freshman year, into M13Y. “Before then I was selling any­thing I could find. But I didn’t have any rela­tion­ships with whole­sale ven­dors; my mindset was, ‘What can I find at retail and sell?’ That’s also when I started tran­si­tioning from selling on eBay to selling on Amazon,” Connolly says. “I decided to refocus and start going for whole­sale rela­tion­ships where I could move a lot of one product in bulk. I part­nered with a ware­house in Michigan. The four main pil­lars we have today are Gatorade, restaurant supplies, Jelly Belly, and recycled wine corks used mainly for crafting.”

Because of his familiarity with Amazon, Connolly sought his co-op experience as a financial analyst with the Amazon e-commerce platform co-op in Seattle, Washington. He was accepted. At Amazon, he worked on a team that managed internal technology procurement. He spent six months working full-time and at the end of his internship was asked to complete a project to be presented to the entire team.

“We actu­ally use Ful­fill­ment by Amazon at M13Y, so when I started working there on co-op, it was really inter­esting, because I got to see the back end of things, visit the ware­house, and under­stand how all of Amazon’s auto­mated ser­vices work,” Connolly says.

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