Business Students Get Professional Experience

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Manning School of Business junior Mayara Belasque says she is learning new skills and making professional contacts at her current co-op job at the Boston Globe.

By Jill Gambon

Getting professional experience as an undergraduate was part of Matt Johnson’s game plan when he entered the Manning School of Business. He wanted to give himself an edge in the job market and put into practice what he’s learning in his classes. When the opportunity to register for the co-op program came up, Johnson, a senior, felt it was a natural fit.

“I wanted to work before graduating so I’d be more competitive,” says Johnson, who is currently on a six-month marketing and sales co-op assignment at Enterprise Bank in Lowell. 

The position with the bank, which involves digital marketing, is Johnson’s second co-op job.  Last summer he worked for Sal’s Pizza helping with marketing plans and building the company’s social media presence. He likes applying what he learns in his courses to his work and sharing his perspective from the professional world in class.  

“With my work experience, I find that I am able to help lead class discussions,” he says.

Johnson is among a growing number of business students signing up for the co-op program and getting three and six-month placements at such companies as Arbor Networks, John Hancock, Fidelity Investments and Northwest Mutual. This semester, 70 business students are enrolled in the program, up from 30 when it was introduced in the MSB in the Fall 2011. Students are working in accounting, marketing, sales, finance and other positions.

“Prior to the co-op program, the University had a limited recruiting relationship with these partners,” says Martina Witts, assistant director of cooperative education. “These new relationships will open up opportunities for our students. Some students have been asked to continue on after the official end of their co-op and seniors have received job offers.”

Research bears out that professional experience can lift a new graduate’s job prospects.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2012 Student Survey, approximately 60 percent of last year’s college graduates who had a paid internship got at least one job offer. And for many employers, internships and co-op programs are a key recruitment strategy. According to NACE’s research, employers surveyed last year reported that 40 percent of new hires would be participants in their internship and co-op programs. 

For Charles Comtois, president of Sullivan Bille, a Tewksbury public accounting firm, having a student onboard for a co-op position is a great way to evaluate potential hires.

“It’s like having them there for a six-month job interview,” says Comtois, a 1982 MSB alumnus. 

Training Before and After

Before students are matched with an employer, they take a professional development seminar that covers everything from how to prepare a resume to job-search strategies. When they return to campus, they take a post-placement class to assess their experience. While students benefit from the skills they learn and the money they earn while working, they also become familiar with the expectations and demands of their chosen profession.

“Even though I have learned a lot about accounting, what I’m really taking away from this is what it’s like to work full-time in a professional environment,” says Mayara Belasque, a junior who is on her first co-op job, working in payroll at the Boston Globe.

Belasque, whose previous work experience was as a part-time grocery store cashier, believes her co-op job will help her reach her goal of becoming a certified public accountant. Several people she’s met at the Globe have acted as professional mentors, providing career guidance and insight.

“I can network with other accountants. I can ask them about their careers and how they got there,” Belasque says.

The co-op program was piloted in the Plastics Engineering department in 2009 and has since expanded to all engineering disciplines, the College of Sciences and the Manning School.  Students have gotten co-op positions at Fortune 500 companies, research hospitals, startups and emerging businesses locally and across the country.

“We like hiring UMass Lowell students. We’ve hired them before and they have done really well,” says Guillianny Ortiz, a technical coordinator with Putnam Investments who attended a recent MSB co-op event to recruit candidates for customer service positions. 

As a result of his co-op work at Sal’s and Enterprise Bank, Johnson feels well-prepared for the workforce and upbeat about his career prospects. If his co-op program experience is an indicator of the future, he has every right to feel confident. When he was interviewing for his most recent co-op position, he got multiple offers.

“That felt fantastic,” he says.