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Campus & Community

One Year Later: Play-by-play Advice for the Pandemic Co-op

April 19, 2021

Seasoned pandemic co-op students share success strategies to help other Dragons make their current co-op experiences a grand slam.

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.

 

Batter up! Each year, Drexel co-op students learn from the seasoned veterans who’ve come before them — those who’ve already knocked their co-op experiences out of the park.

 

And this, the pandemic year, is no different. The nature of work has changed, but Dragons’ support of each other isn’t going anywhere.

 

So, current or soon-to-be co-op students, think of this as your dugout. Here are five Dragons who’ve had at least one co-op in pandemic times, and are here to share their keys to success through this DrexelNow interview as well as through their involvement in the Steinbright Career Development Center’s Peer Mentor program.

 

Check out the line-up and their “stats” to help make your own co-op experience a grand slam:

 

 

Justin Cruz, fourth-year communications major, remote pandemic co-opJustin Cruz

Fourth-year communications major

Remote pandemic co-op

 

One word to describe the pandemic co-op experience: The first word for me is “flexible.” I found, multiple times throughout the days, months, and weeks on co-op, that I would be working early mornings, late nights. … Being remote makes things a little bit easier in the sense that you can just open up the computer and hop on to work on projects whenever you need to. For me, having to create and edit videos, my ideas change in an instant at any time of day. So, I could be trying to go to sleep and then I get a new idea, so I’d have to write it down and then work on it the next day. It's one of those things where your gears are always spinning and constantly coming up with new ideas.

 

Biggest piece of advice for going into a pandemic co-op: Don't be afraid to reach out to people on a regular basis. Reconnect with colleagues and keep on building those relationships that you want to build, especially if you're in a larger company.

 

What’s important when navigating a virtual work setting: I couldn't do my job regularly in the same place. I had to sit, stand, go into a different room. I had to keep it moving because, I remember back in the office, I wasn't just at my desk. I was sitting in a café. I was sitting in a lounge somewhere. It was a big corporate campus, so I had a lot of flexibility to move around. I found myself constantly doing that and trying to replicate that at home. … My environment was constantly changing, and I think that helped my overall performance.

 

Justin Nguyen, fourth-year senior marketing student, remote pandemic co-opJustin Nguyen

Fourth-year senior, marketing

Remote pandemic co-op

 

One word to describe the pandemic co-op experience: One word that I would use would be “distant” because we're starting a job in the pandemic time and never really getting the opportunity to actually meet our team in person. … It's lacking that social [interaction], that community aspect of like, “Oh hey, let's go grab some coffee, let's go grab some lunch.” That makes it all the more important to take the initiative to reach out to your team to schedule those virtual coffee chats or virtual happy hours just to get to know the team more and to build that social element that would have been very relevant in the in-person office setting¬≠¬≠.

 

Biggest piece of advice for going into a pandemic co-op: Because everyone's virtual, everyone's only one email away. You can use this time to explore and get involved in other opportunities that you might not have even been able to get on before, because everyone's in the same boat, not just the interns. Everyone's going through this together.

 

What’s important when navigating a virtual work setting: Keep a morning routine. When working from home, it is so easy — and I do fall guilty of this sometimes — to roll out of bed, crawl to my computer and be like, “OK, I'm here for my morning meeting.” But I found that the days that I do, wake up, make breakfast, brush my teeth, make my morning coffee, [I] get the mental preparation of like, “Hey, I'm getting ready for this day.” It helps me so much in tackling everyday tasks that day, whereas if I’m just kind of crawling out bed, then it's like I'm getting to the computer, I'm trying to wake up while trying to do my morning tasks. Things go slower, I’m a lot less reactive, and a lot more prone to making mistakes. So, yeah, my advice is to keep the morning routine that you have normally just to help yourself get ready for the day.

 

How students can make the most of whatever situation they’re in for their pandemic co-op: Because things are virtual and a lot of other events are virtual, that means it's possible for you to get involved in things that you might have never had the opportunity to get involved in. I was thinking about various online networking and career fairs hosted by outside organizations that typically I would have never been able to go to. … You never know what’s out there, and because it is virtual, there’s the opportunity to get exposed to just so much more. So, the rules of just trying out new things because you never know, still apply, and now the opportunities are truly endless on the virtual platform.

 

Parting words of wisdom: The most important thing I think people forget is, remember, you're still a student. You might be working for some of these top companies, some of these companies are really changing the world like say, for example, Pfizer. … That door, as intimidating as might be, is always there for you to ask for help, because they're there with the understanding that you are there to learn. You are there to grow, and maybe to work for them in the future. But as of where you are now, you're still a student where you're allowed to ask other people for help, to not make decisions in a vacuum and to reach out to the team that you’re placed in or people around the company to get the assistance you need for that insight, or for you to be successful in the co-op and as a student. If you’re successful, they’re also successful, and they want the best for you.

 

Renee Saraka, fifth-year senior chemical engineering student, in-person pandemic co-opRenee Saraka

Fifth-year senior, chemical engineering

In-person pandemic co-op

 

A problem you faced with pandemic co-op, and how you solved it: For the majority of my co-op, I was onsite. All of our desks were spread out. My entire department was across several different locations around this giant refinery. So, trying to find my bearings in a new office with a new team, trying to find where everything is on top of being in a giant oil refinery and being like, “Oh, I need to go out and check this one piece of equipment. Well, I don't know where that is. I don't know how to get there, and everyone else needs to stay six feet away from me.” Overcoming that was definitely a challenge, trying to just be in a new setting, trying to find your way around and trying to figure out where everything is in a new office without being able to walk there or have a coworker go there with you.

 

How students can make the most of whatever situation they’re in for their pandemic co-op: My first co-op was in research and development, and if you would have asked me after that co-op, I was for sure going to go to grad school. There was not a doubt in my mind. Then, I took my second co-op at a chemical plant. After that I was like, “Forget grad school. I'm never doing that.” That happened when co-op was normal and that can happen when co-op is like it is. Maybe you're going to find something that you never would have tried, you never thought you would have liked, and that's going to be a total career altering move for you. That could be happening for you right now and you don't even know it.

 

Parting words of wisdom: You are doing the absolute best that you can because you went out there and you got a job during a pandemic. You're trying something new in this weird setting where you can't talk to anyone or be with anyone. So give yourself a pat on the back for that and just realize that it will be OK, you'll be OK, even though it's not what you expected. You're still doing it. You're still getting some experience, and at the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

 

Maria Tierney, fourth-year senior nursing student, in-person pandemic co-opMaria Tierney

Fourth-year senior, nursing

In-person pandemic co-op

 

One word to describe the pandemic co-op experience: One word to describe it is “isolating” because all of a sudden, you may be in a role that is very stressful and emotionally taxing and any campus resources that we would have had in a pre-pandemic state were all of a sudden really hard to access. … So it really forces the co-op student to take responsibility in realizing, “What do I need to do to take care of myself holistically? I'm in this new role. Maybe imposter syndrome is happening and I don't have my communities on campus to rely on in-person.”

 

Biggest piece of advice for going into a pandemic co-op: I think for a co-op student, it's really important to recognize the little wins. We're learning a lot of new skills. With the culture at Drexel, a lot of us are tough on ourselves. We expect a lot from ourselves. So, if maybe a new skill isn't as easy to, like, ace right away, look at what you did good throughout the day and throughout the week and be proud of that.

 

A problem you faced with pandemic co-op, and how you solved it: Something I struggled with was turning work off when I came home. For nursing majors, the majority of our co-ops, we do 12-hour shifts and sometimes you can do them like three days in a row. So, I started developing a ritual after work to unplug and just tried to follow that every day because otherwise you can't get rid of it. So just having a ritual that works for you to unplug so that home is a safe space and work is where you left it.

 

Parting words of wisdom: Co-op has the opportunity to provide a lot of growth, not only as a worker and a student, but as an individual. I hate to be sappy, but that's kind of the beauty of the co-op. It's a different path than your friends and your classmates, and so recognizing how far a student comes, not only as a worker and student, but as a person, it's really special, and they should reflect on that and be proud.

 

Vivian Tran, fifth-year senior biological sciences student, remote pandemic co-opVivian Tran

Fifth-year senior, biological sciences

Remote pandemic co-op

 

Biggest piece of advice for going into a pandemic co-op: My biggest advice would be to be honest with yourself and with your manager, whatever workplace you're in. I think as students and being at Drexel and just hustling every day, I think we're kind of taught with that mentality to always go above and beyond, which is something that I've always tried to achieve with myself. But I think in a workplace environment, it's really hard because you could be taken advantage of in some ways in terms of your time and your effort. So, I think it's really good to set a mentality on the first day to know what are your limits? What are your hours, especially because it's remote? What am I going to be doing? What are your tasks? And just knowing that there's a goal at the end of that co-op, whether it's the one you set for yourself or it's the one that your workplace provides.

 

How students can make the most of whatever situation they’re in for their pandemic co-op: Definitely take advantage of your time. In the case where you have a part-time co-op, or a co-op that doesn't offer as many hours, utilize that time to look at part-time work. … Don’t

think of a co-op — a part-time one, or losing out on a co-op because of whatever circumstances — as totally losing out on six months of your time. Just utilize it to get a part-time job or full-time job and spend it however you like.

 

Something you enjoyed about your pandemic co-op: I enjoy doing my co-op in my bed. Not to sound weird, but it's so nice chilling back, being on computer and like just doing a bunch of work and not having to sit on a chair, although I don't think doing work on your bed is very good for your back. But it's just nice to be in a very comfortable environment and like having your mom bring you fruit while you're doing some work. So I think because of that, you do get a sense of being in your comfort zone when you're doing work, while at the same time taking part in whatever great internship you’re in.

 

The Steinbright Career Development Center's Peer Mentor Program is a resource for Drexel students preparing to take part in our unique cooperative education program. The program enables co-op students to get advice from students who have experienced the challenges you're going through and had the same questions you have about co-op. We train students who have had a demonstrable history of excellence to provide guidance to other students going out on a co-op for the first time. If you are interested and think you would be a good fit, please reach out to your co-op advisor about becoming a Drexel University peer mentor!