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How Co-op Helped me Find my Dream Job

February 3, 2016

About Me 

Kelly O’Connell is a fifth year civil and environmental engineering student with a minor in mechanical engineering. She is very interested in the energy industry and reducing its harmful effects on the environment. She was named the National Co-op Student of the Year by the American Society for Engineering Education this month. She is very involved with Northeastern’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders and was the president of the organization during her 4th year.

How Co-op Helped me Find my Dream Job

When I began my college search, I never had any intention of going to Northeastern. I sent in an application because it was convenient and I had heard people talk about it being a good university. A week before final decisions were due, I squeezed in a campus tour, just to give it a chance, even though I had already prepared my acceptance at another school. Upon arriving, I was immediately enchanted by all that Northeastern had to offer and knew that it was where I was meant to be. Co-op was something that they talked about during that tour, but I definitely did not understand its importance upon entering Northeastern.

Five years and three co-ops later, I cannot express my level of gratitude and support I have of the co-op program. It has shaped me into the person I am today, as a student, a professional, and an adult. Each of my three very diverse positions taught me its own unique lessons, which may have taken years for me to learn otherwise, if at all.

For me, co-op has not just been about learning how to be in a professional work setting and being a good employee, it was mostly about finding my passions, my strengths, and myself. I chose to study civil and environmental engineering because I was good at math and science in high school and I wanted to make a difference in the environment. Through my co-ops (and many other colleges experiences), I narrowed this broad definition down to specifically being interested in sustainable energy practices. My first co-op at a large construction firm and my second at a water resources engineering firm made me realize that the path that I chose for myself thus far was not one that I really wanted to be on.

During my second co-op, I decided I needed to make the rest of my time at Northeastern a worthwhile experience that would point me in the direction of my professional interests. I elected to do a mechanical engineering minor, and the remainder of my civil classes outside of the traditional choices about water or structures to focus on energy. I also went to a mechanical engineering co-op coordinator to help me apply for positions of interest that were not available to civil engineers.

My third co-op was the first time in my life that I actually was able to say, “I love my job!” I ended up at a commercial energy efficiency company that is everything I could ever want in an employer. Aside from having dogs in the office and lunchtime foosball tournaments, the work was actually interesting and enjoyable! I happily accepted their job offer to join the team as a full-time employee after graduation.

Without my co-op experiences teaching me more than many classes have, I would have ended up going through my entire education blindly following the premade, traditional path and would have never ended up where I am today. My story is just one of the many co-op success stories that have come out of Northeastern and I couldn’t be more grateful.