Podcast: McKenzie Carver: What is a Co-Op program?

In today’s episode, I sit down with McKenzie, Signet Education’s exceptional Community and Operations Manager. Our conversation delves into the impact of her Co-Op program at Northeastern on her college experience and her career journey.

TRANSCRIPT

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

But I gained so much experience from little things such as how to dress in a professional setting to how to interact with your co op co workers in a professional setting, how to ride the tee into downtown every day.

Sheila Akbar: 

And commuting is an important part of career prep.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

It is. How to pack a lunch.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, folks, welcome back. Nice to have you here with me. Today I get to sit down with one of my close colleagues, Mckenzie Carver, I asked her to join us on the podcast because she had such an interesting experience in college that I really think prepared her well for career, she is a superstar here at Signet. If you’ve ever called us or had to schedule something with a tutor, you’ve talked to her and experienced her brilliance firsthand. She also does a lot behind the scenes to support our tutors in terms of creating a sense of community organizing professional development, and just in general, being a really wonderful ambassador of our culture and our philosophy around education. So I asked her to join us today to talk about her experience in college at Northeastern where she participated in two coops. Now for those of you who don’t know what a co op is, it’s an educational opportunity where you actually go work for a business. And that either gets you paid or counts as college credit. In her case, it did both while she was in her undergrad and helped her really figure out what she was interested in what kind of work environment was a good fit for her, and where she wanted to continue investing her time and energy into exploring as a career path. And as you can tell, it served her very well. So take a listen. And I hope you enjoy this conversation with me and Mckenzie. Mckenzie, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m really excited for this conversation.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

Thank you for having me, I’m excited to great and don’t be nervous.

Sheila Akbar: 

I’ll go easy on you. Don’t worry.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

I appreciate it.

Sheila Akbar: 

So as I like to do with all my guests, I want to start by inviting you to kind of introduce us to who you are and what you do. And then we’ll back up and talk about your journey to this point in time.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

So I am the Community and Operations Manager at Signet education. I completed my undergrad at Northeastern and I majored in communications with a minor in psychology. And then right out of college, I graduated into the pandemic and started working in a sales role. And it just didn’t feel like the right fit. For me, it was travel sales. So I started to look elsewhere and was connected through the dance community to Andrea, Signet’s Director of Operations. And since then I have been working closely with Andrea and you, Sheila to help keep Signet running, keeping our tutors happy and really working closely with them to make sure that this is a healthy business.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s a great short little recap, and I don’t want you to minimize what you do, you really are the the logistical engine that keeps us running, you handle all of the scheduling for our hundreds of sessions that are happening each month. And you are our Community Manager, which means you’re really the person who kind of executes on our culture, to making sure like, we all live by our values, and we connect with each other and that we have a great place to work. So you really are an essential member of the team. And I’m so glad people are gonna get to hear from you. Now, you mentioned you went to Northeastern, and over the past several years Northeastern has sort of skyrocketed in terms of let’s say selectivity has certainly gotten a lot tighter at Northeastern. And I think related to that, it’s sort of gained in prestige or reputation among certainly people in the northeast, who you know, 15 20 years ago, Northeastern might have been a safety school for them now, it’s definitely in the reach category for a lot of students. So tell us about how you chose Northeastern, and what appealed to you about their programs.

Unknown: 

Absolutely. So I when I graduated college, I didn’t have a major in mind. I thought maybe it would be English, maybe communications, but I also had some strengths in math too. So I was looking at math programs as well and quickly decided that maybe undeclared would be the best way to go for me. So one thing that I was looking at when I was viewing all these colleges are how strong are their undeclared programs? How much support do they provide students in exploring different paths? So that’s one part of sort of how I was viewing the college search and approach. I also grew up in a really small town, we had one elementary school that fed to one middle school that fed to one high school. And I really wanted to experience and interact with different types of people. And so I knew that I wanted to go to a bigger school, and preferably one in a city, but a city that was so close enough to home where I could zip home and do laundry at my parents house if I wanted to. And then the third sort of bucket that I wanted to fill was I wanted to go and get an education that was going to prepare me for my next step that was going to really give me all of the opportunities for taking my first step into a career and looking at all the schools that I applied to Northeastern had the best options for all three of those buckets. They had a strong undeclared program, a very diverse student population, but they it was located in a city but still had a campus feel to it. You know, it’s not just one strip of school, you know, there are greens, there are trees, there are dorm hubs, and the Co Op program is the best thing to prepare you for a career. So it was kind of an easy decision once I was accepted to make that choice.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s great. And I really commend you for knowing what your preferences were. As a teenager, I don’t know if you remember this, because it was a long time ago for you. I’m being silly, because you’re much younger than I am. But if you can remember way back? How did you come to that kind of clarity about what you were looking for? Who did you talk to? What did you do to figure out what you were looking for?

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

Oh, that’s a good question. So I am very close with my family, my cousin’s extended family, and I fall right in the middle of an age of all of those folks. So I spent a lot of time actually talking with my older cousins who had gone to college and asking them, how did you know what you wanted? How did you choose where you wanted to go, which kind of helped me start to have those thoughts about myself and where I saw myself in the future. And then I spent a lot of time talking to my teachers and my guidance counselor at school. And while the teachers might have had sort of a more limited focus of the college selection, my guidance counselor was really helpful and sort of taking me through activities and exercises that would best get me in the right mindset to think about what does Mackenzie look like when she’s 25 years old? And thinking about that, as a 16? year old? This is kind of wild?

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m so glad you had that kind of support within your family and within your school, because we know not everybody has that. But yeah, listeners talk to older family members. That’s a really, really great source of information and a good place to reflect. So let’s now talk about your time at Northeastern because they are really known for their Co Op program. So what did you expect from it? And then what was the reality of it?

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

I was, I didn’t really have many expectations going into it, I just kind of thought of it as an internship program. And I didn’t understand until I was actually a student there. How important it is to your time at Northeastern and the way that they structure their classes, the way that they structure their majors. I just sort of thought it was like, Yeah, you go to class, and then you do an internship. And it’s great because you get paid, but sometimes you don’t get paid, but you get this experience. And then when it was my actual experience, that Co Op was fantastic. I graduated in four years, and I did two coops. I remember my first day of co op class, because they put you in a co op class to prepare you on how to apply what you should be looking at depending on your interests. And I was in a communications major specific Co Op class. And I remember, remember my professors saying, your communications major, if you want to do your co op in Boston, you have two industry choices, education or health care. And that was really what I found to be true when I went into the Co Op exploration process. And I learned so much at such a young age, because you’re building your resume, you’re writing cover letters for all of these Co Op positions. And you’re 19 So you’re getting sort of that career prep, just in stage one of the job application process as a Co Op. And then I found that my time in each Co Op was more valuable than I think would have been in an internship. I was given more responsibilities. The programs were a lot more structured. I ended up doing my first co op in healthcare, and I did my second one in education. So I stuck to the two industries that were presented to me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, before you go into detail about them, I want to back up to something you you said just a second ago, where you said that Northeastern really builds its curriculum around Co Op. Can you tell us more about what that means?

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

Yes. Aabsolutely every major, depending on what it may be, has a specific program of requirements. And for some of those, they for some majors, they require you to do three Co Ops. For others, they require you to do two and other majors, it might just be one minimum. But in order to graduate, every student needs to complete an experiential learning requirement, which is the Co Op program. And that is the reason why you see some students graduating five years, some students graduating in four years, because it’s you don’t find a major or like a program of study at Northeastern that doesn’t mention a Co Op and communications that I had a little bit more freedom to structure, how I wanted my Co Op, break down to be, you know, whether I wanted to do four semesters of study, and then a Co Op, and then another semester of study and then a Co Op. Whereas I know for some engineering majors, they require you to do your Co Op, second year, second semester, you know, it’s a more rigid timeline of when your Co Ops can be completed. So it really is everything is built around that. And a lot of times, professors that you have in classes after you take the Co Op expect you to come to class with professional experience from your Co Ops too.

Sheila Akbar: 

Interesting. So like they’re asking you to talk about your time in your Co Op and what you learned how maybe this thing in class applies. It’s almost like, you know, business school, where they expect you to be able to draw on your professional experience to contribute to the classroom discussion. That’s interesting. I didn’t actually know that. Okay, so now you do your first Co Op in healthcare. Tell us about that experience.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

So I did my first Co Op in a telehealth company, I worked in their human resources department, I ended up my day to day tasks kind of vary depending on what time of year it was, you know, sometimes I was working with benefits. Sometimes I was recruiting sometimes I was writing notices and doing some community building for the company. But I gained so much experience from little things such as how to dress in a professional setting, to how to interact with your Co Op co workers in a professional setting, how to ride the tee into downtown every day.

Sheila Akbar: 

And commuting is an important part of career prep.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

It is. How to pack a lunch. And I ended up being invited back to stay with that Co Op for a full year. So I ended up doing the six months full time, I took a month and a half off to study to do a dialogue, a study abroad. And then I went back part time for the rest of that school year, which was really great, because I was able to stack my classes to happen on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. And I would go to work Tuesdays and Fridays and continue to maintain that professional relationship with all of my co workers and build my experience. And, you know, they gave me more responsibilities that the longer I stayed. And they did invite me back to complete my second Co Op there. But I wanted to switch things up and kind of experience something new, which is why I ended up leaving.

Sheila Akbar: 

So tell us about that second Co Op then

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

My second Co Op was actually within one of the colleges at Northeastern it was within the College of Arts Media and Design. And I worked in marketing and communications and and it was a very different feel than the healthcare industry that I had previously experienced. Not only was it a smaller office and a more close knit team, which I found to be really valuable given that, you know, you’re working for a massive university. But it was also a lot more creative and more colorful. And I had a lot more freedom in my voice and the way I wrote, which I found to be really enjoyable. And I wouldn’t have known that. Thinking about years later how I still ended up it within the education industry. I wouldn’t have known that I liked it more had I not made the decision to switch up my next Co Op experience after finishing the first one.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, but just like, listen to you talk about that. I know that in my professional journey, I tried a lot of things. And every time I quit a job and I did quit really every job I’ve ever had until Signet usually around the two year mark, I’m like, Oh, I’m out not a signal. I’ve been here 13 years now. But you know, each one of those I can look at now and say oh, it was like a little experiment. I was learning what I liked what I didn’t like what atmosphere suited my strengths, what kind of people I wanted to be around. And how amazing is it that you got to do that while you were still in college? So that you learned, you know where you felt like you said, more creative, more free, maybe a little more able to be yourself in a work context and then you could then choose that as you moved into your professional life. I you know, I don’t think it’s a waste but I did take up many years of my young adulthood. After college trying to figure this out, and you know, you get to enter the world with that knowledge already, how amazing is that?

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

Yeah, it really prepared me for the real world in ways that I could have never imagined in terms of interview prep, and just knowing what to expect, knowing the answers to questions that interviewers might ask you like, what style of management Do you prefer, you know, a recent college grad might not know might not have ever had a manager before. So having that experience is huge.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. And I can tell you, when we were hiring for the role, the year in which, you know, we’ve expanded since you, you have all of these capacities that I think are so special, but the initial role when we were interviewing you, and I think there were maybe two or three other people who kind of made it past the the first or second round. And I just remember thinking like, this woman is like, predator naturally mature, and, like self aware, in a way that you know, these other people who were, similarly one or two years out of college, just were not. And I think it really speaks to the career prep that you were seeking, that, you know, it actually worked. Now, I mentioned to you a little while ago that I working with a student who for whom I thought Northeastern would be a great fit. And she did to initially, and then she just completed some research on it that I had assigned her. And she came back and said, You know, I feel like this Co Op program would take me off of campus. And because it’s required, that means everybody else is leaving campus to. And I imagine that has to have a negative impact on the feeling of community, at Northeastern and community for her is one of those important things that she’s looking. So I’m just curious what your thoughts are on that.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

I have to say, I don’t disagree with her. I know what every college they say, your community is what you make of it. But Northeastern as a whole, you know, we have that go Husky spirit, we love our hockey games. But there is a sense of the people that you sit in class with, are not always going to be there in class, because they might be in Seattle, completing a call, they might be in New York, but it doesn’t feel abnormal. When you’re there living in it, it feels like it’s just a normal part of the process that you won’t see this person for six months, because they’re on their Co Op cycle. And it might not even line up with your own Co Op cycle. So it’s really up to you and who you choose to be in your community to make sure that it’s maintained, despite the travel that’s happening. There’s also the n u n piece too, that affects you know, the community, especially when you’re a freshman, all of a sudden, you’re heading into second semester. And there’s this whole big new group of faces that you haven’t seen before who might show up in your classes and show up in the dining hall. And it’s your first time meeting them. But I also think it gives you a really good opportunity to explore new ways to find community, because it’s always shifting, figuring out what clubs, you know, might have your friends in that you don’t see the most and making travel plans to go visit your friends who are on Co Op across the country.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, I was gonna say it’s also really great preparation for real life, where you really do have to make an effort to keep up with people that you care about, right? Like, I know, as adults, we all all limit how much harder it is to make friends or to find people to date. And so I guess maybe Northeastern was a good preparation for, for that aspect of real life too.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

Yeah, it definitely was. And it’s always surprising to me, when I talk to my other peers who may have graduated at the same time as me from a different college, when they hear sort of where my friend group has landed all across the country. They’re shocked. They’re like, wow, everyone, for my college just ended up going to the closest city where our school was located. But Northeastern it’s way more likely that your group is going to end up scattered because they might have done a Co Op in Texas, and they might have done a Co Op in California or New York.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s so fascinating. Well, you know, I don’t need this episode to be a commercial for Northeastern, right, it’s gonna be a fit for some people and not for others. But I do think it’s valuable for people to hear what a Co Op experience might be like, and what kind of student that might appeal to certainly people who like to learn by doing, I think, but also those who are really, you know, intent on being well prepared for entry into the to the career force, and there are other colleges that have Co Op programs. But what I want to close with is what kind of advice would you give to a high school student who is starting to think about whether a college with a Co Op program might be the right fit for them or not?

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

I think if you’re thinking about whether a school with a Co Op program is going to be the right fit it more than likely will always be a right fit. Because you can find whatever pathway and explore whatever pathway that’s going to best suit your interests through having a Co Op program. So you’re kind of given the opportunity to explore the fit even more, once you’re in that school, I would just say be open to, to scary things, and opportunities that don’t necessarily look like the typical college experience that you see in movies. Because I know myself and my graduating class, we had really some of the best times of our lives there. And we graduated with one foot already in the door, and a lot more experienced and others who might be entering the job force at the same time as us.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. And, you know, you said, when we started that you graduated into the pandemic, and what a blessing, it must have felt like to already kind of have connections and job skills and things like that. And I think as we move into this new future of work, you know, who knows how AI is going to disrupt it. And you know, most of us are working remotely now. And things are just different. And a lot of people are talking about skills, first, job training, and education. And what better way to get that then hands on job training in a Co Op program. Well, thank you, McKenzie, for your time is really great to talk to you about this.

McKenzie – Signet Education: 

You too. Thanks for having me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Wow, I just learned so much about what the actual experience of going through a college that integrates Co Op education into its curriculum. There are several colleges around the country that do this. And there are many colleges abroad that have this just sort of built in, for example, the German system has sort of an apprenticeship program built in. And that’s essentially what these coops are. So I don’t want this episode to be an advertisement for Northeastern, but that is probably the most prominent university in the US that has a Co Op program as part of its curriculum. But if this sort of thing interests you or you think your kid would really thrive learning in this way, definitely do some research on where else you can find Co Op programs. All right. Thank you for joining us, as always, we’ll see you next time.

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