Alexandra Pickens, international area studies ’17, on her co-op at a public school in India.
The sun is out and the spring term is underway at Drexel University, but for many students it’s time to begin thinking forward to the fall. Jobs will begin posting next month for the fall/winter co-op cycle, and before long students will be marching off to interviews and dreaming big about the experiences to come.
The co-op process can seem daunting and full of questions. What position should you seek? How should you carry yourself once you arrive? How can you make the most of it? So DrexelNow asked a few co-op veterans for their advice on navigating everything from job selection to networking to office dynamics. Whether you’re embarking on your first, second or third co-op — or even if you won’t be going on one for a while — there’s something to be said for the wisdom of your elders.
Choosing Your Destination
“Be mindful that a job description cannot tell you everything,” said Kerrivah Heard, communication ’19, who has completed two co-ops with Comcast as an internal communicator.
“For your first co-op, apply to as many positions as possible,” said Danielle Bishop, nursing ’17, who has done co-ops as a secretary at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a nurse aide at Inspira Medical Center and a neonatal/intensive care unit tech at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The interviewing experience is invaluable, and will undoubtedly help you in the future. ... It is also important to see all of the different options out there. There are so many unique opportunities and sub-specialties within the realm of nursing, and I think that the co-op jobs are great for allowing you to see just some of the many possibilities out there.”
“Don’t be intimidated by the process,” said Alexandra Pickens, international area studies ’17, who worked as a legal assistant at Philly’s Rawle & Henderson law firm, an English teacher at a public school in India, and a research assistant with a nongovernmental organization in Jordan. “When you first hear about A, B and C rounds, interview request deadlines and employer rankings, it can be overwhelming. Make sure to be proactive and start your research early. When you know exactly what you’re looking for in a co-op and take the time to identify/research those jobs early in the co-op selection process, you can put yourself in the best position possible to be a competitive candidate for the experience you want.”
For Brendan McHale, music industry ’18, who worked with the director of engagement at the Philly POPS, working for multiple bosses took some adjustment, as did the early days when he didn’t know what he would be doing each day. “Eventually I had a routine, so it worked out,” he said.
“It has always been hard at first to start off and learn all about an entire unit/hospital and feel comfortable in your job position,” Bishop said of her co-ops. “The first few weeks are always nerve-wracking, and I often get nervous that I may mess up or look like an idiot. But by the end of my co-ops, I’ve always felt confident in my role and proud of the work I’ve done.”
“The biggest challenge I faced in my co-op experience was trying to work out serious logistical complexities,” said Pickens, who was juggling her role on Drexel’s field hockey team while pursuing co-ops. “Being a student-athlete with year-round training obligations made it difficult to pursue the kind of international work experience I was hoping to acquire. … I was able to overcome this challenge and create what turned out to be a great co-op experience by starting the planning process early, conducting a ton of independent research, and taking advantage of the various resources Drexel has to offer.”
Leave an Impression
“Be a problem-solver by realizing your company’s weaknesses and figuring out how you can help,” said Heard. “Anyone can spot the problem, but not everyone can be the solution, so having that mindset as an early habit is definitely a good start.”
And more from Heard: “Staying late is not the only way to be impressive. Be willing and vocal, go beyond your job description, come to work on time, take notes at meetings — this is truly your time to shine.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they may be silly,” said Bishop. “No question is a stupid question. … Clarification through questioning will always lead you in the right direction.”
“Always ask questions and ask them with a smile,” said McHale. “Never complain about what you're told to do because even the CEOs of the world start out making coffee. If you're likable and intelligent and diligent with the work you put in, they will like you and ask you to come back most likely.”
Don’t Forget to Cherish the Experience
McHale said his co-op highlight was setting up over 100 bicycles to give away at a charity event and seeing kids react when they received them. “It was touching,” he said.
“My co-op experience as a whole reaffirmed my passion for international problem-solving through cross-cultural communication,” said Pickens. “Moreover, the job selection process really showed me the value of self-initiative and fostered my sense of independence.”
“When I first started at Drexel, I had no clue if I really wanted to be a nurse, let alone what area of nursing I wanted to work in,” said Bishop. “But by choosing three different co-op options with three different employers and three unique experiences, I feel that I have definitely found out what I like and dislike about nursing. If it was not for these co-ops, I genuinely don’t think I would have realized how much I love taking care of NICU babies and the pediatric population. … Simply put, the co-op experience is just invaluable.”
For more information that could help you find your dream co-op, check out the Steinbright Career Development Center for tips, deadlines, requirements and more.
About the Drexel Co-op program: More than 98 percent of eligible undergraduate students at Drexel participate in the co-op program, balancing full-time classes and up to three different internships during their time at Drexel. Students can choose from more than 1,700 employers in 33 states and 48 international locations — plus endless possibilities through self-arranged placements.