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Recent Alumnus Turns Co-op Into Career

September 28, 2016

Drexel’s signature experiential learning opportunity, better known as co-op, connects students with full-time professional work enabling them to build their resumes while they earn their degrees. Fortunately, for graduate students, Drexel’s graduate co-op is being revamped starting this fall.

The new co-op program is the result of a partnership between the Graduate College and the Steinbright Career Development Center. “Students gain six months of meaningful work experience while pursuing their graduate degrees. After they return from their co-op, their academic experience will be enriched by the professional perspective gained,” according to Nicole Dalberto, associate director of Steinbright. “The goal is to draw more students to the world class educational experience and industry exposure offered at Drexel.” 

The concept is simple but the results are unique. Drexel alumnus, Akshay Finney, was one such student who combined his master’s degree coursework with industry exposure through a co-op in the emerging cybersecurity field at Meditology Services, a healthcare information technology security company.

While new to the healthcare IT industry, Finney brought a sound knowledge of cybersecurity. “With respect to my technical skills, Dr. Harish Sethu’s Web Security series was invaluable. The beauty of the course was that it wasn’t just for engineering or math majors,” reflected Finney, who thrived in the interdisciplinary nature of Drexel’s cybersecurity program.

As with any field though, real-world situations may vary from what is learned in the classroom. Finney put his studies to action through co-op, gaining important client service, presentation and decision-making skills. “When I joined Meditology my goal was to absorb everything and be the best I could be at what I did,” he said. “Being in the industry and getting hands-on experience, I felt that my security skills and knowledge had increased to another level.”

Beyond the professional experience and skills gained, Finney made lasting connections with colleagues and leaders in his field. “A huge aspect of my co-op was interacting with new people. Top information technology and security officers at some of the largest healthcare organizations in the U.S. were people I got to speak to on almost a daily basis,” Finney said.

Finney’s co-op also propelled him ahead of his peers before his approaching graduation. “As an international student a full-time job is something that weighs heavily on your mind,” Finney, who is originally from India, explained. 

So, when Meditology Services offered him a full-time position before Drexel’s Commencement this past spring, he not only jumped at the opportunity, but also knew he was ready. He said, “Nothing prepares you for real-world experiences until you’ve gone into the trenches.”

Finney was just about fully trained when he started his first day as an associate, saying, ”I knew what to expect right off the bat.” He now works on innovative IT risk management and ethical hacking teams, traveling from cities ranging from Buffalo to Los Angeles, ensuring the critical security of Meditology’s healthcare provider clients.

Describing the career opportunity as a “combination of luck and hard work,” Finney said, “Once you have the mindset to ‘learn’ instead of ‘earn’, you find that perfect position.” He also credits being motivated by his new colleagues and mentors, saying, “My team at Meditology welcomed me through the journey.”

Finney’s advice as an alumnus will be especially useful for the many new and forthcoming graduate students enrolled in a co-op track program. “Making the most of the opportunities to learn about your industry goes a long way,” he said.  

Acknowledging the journey isn’t always easy, Finney added, “I always say don’t be disappointed. Keep plugging through and eventually you will get it. Reminding yourself that you are good at what you do takes you to new heights. So be confident, and never be bogged down by disappointments.”

The new graduate co-op model will support students in reaching these career-driven opportunities before the job search even starts. Before beginning co-op, graduate students take a course focused on topics such as preparing resumes and developing the essential skills needed for successful job searches and interviews. Students also work closely with Steinbright to explore Drexel’s network of industry partners and career resources.

According to James Herbert, PhD, dean of the Graduate College, the new co-op program will be extended to many more master’s programs over the coming two years, appealing especially to certain groups of students. “We think that international students, who can’t otherwise work on a student visa, as well as career changers, will be drawn to the graduate co-op experience.” 

Echoing the value of the program, Dalberto added, “the benefits of the network gained, the resume enhancement, the perspective to make informed decisions about how to steer their careers forward are invaluable rewards of graduate co-op.”

Alumni like Finney are seeing rewards like these come from their hard work. Managing the fast-paced cybersecurity environment, various clients with diverse needs and assorted deadlines is not new for Finney as he said confidently, “Drexel taught me how to manage that!”