Students Part of Big Growth in Manning School Co-op Program
By Ed Brennen
They walk past Versace, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior on their way into work each morning at Copley Place in Boston’s Back Bay. Inside their company’s seven-story global headquarters, the meeting spaces and reception areas look like high-end furniture showrooms, with stylish sofas, accent chairs and wall décor. On breaks they can play foosball with co-workers in the game room, relax in a massage chair and munch on free snacks.
For UMass Lowell business students Mai Pham, Brian Regan and Joshua Bedard, those are just some of the perks that come with working as six-month co-ops at online retail giant Wayfair, which was recently named one of the “Top Places to Work in Massachusetts” by the Boston Globe.
But as the university’s first crop of co-op students at Wayfair, all three agree that the real benefits come from being immersed in a $3.4 billion global e-commerce business where they’re not only encouraged, but expected, to take on high-impact projects that advance their career skills.
“I love it,” says Pham, a Manning School of Business junior who, in her role as supplier monitoring co-op, supports hundreds of furniture and home furnishing suppliers around the world with product discontinuation and part number updates. With a triple concentration in supply chain and operations management, management information systems and international business, Pham can’t imagine a better real-world complement to her business degree.
“I absolutely feel more confident in my career,” says Pham, a native of Vietnam who “definitely” could see herself working at the company someday. “This is giving me experience in the corporate world before I graduate, which will help me in the future.”
Getting With the Program
All three students are enrolled in the university’s Professional Co-op Program, which continues to enjoy record growth for business students. In 2015-16, the Manning School had 70 students out on co-op over the fall, spring and summer sessions. In this academic year, there have already been 72 students out on co-op, with the summer session still to come. The bulk of those co-ops (52) have come this spring, up from 34 the previous year.
Regan, a sophomore from Canton with a concentration in finance, knew of Wayfair’s reputation as a young and innovative company and “immediately applied to all of the positions available” when he saw them posted on CareerLINK.
“This is probably the best decision I could make for a co-op,” says Regan, a catalogue outreach analyst who works in Wayfair’s merchandising department, taking product information from suppliers and tagging attributes to items on the website to make them more searchable for customers. Regan says he is learning different uses for Microsoft Excel and honing his analytical skills — and doing so in an environment where he feels both challenged and supported.
“I like the open collaboration. If I have a question, my boss is right next to me and she can help me,” Regan says. “And it’s really hands-on, which I like. I didn’t really expect to be in a situation where I’d have all these tools to utilize, but they really wanted me to push myself.
“They expect a lot out of me, but they’re willing to help me along the way to get where I’m comfortable. I’m treated like a full-time employee. They have the same expectations of us as co-ops. And I can actually make a difference with my work. I can see what I do on the website and how it affects the company.”
According to Wayfair Recruiting Associate Steph Oteri, the company currently has approximately 70 co-ops across all its departments. Based on the performance of this first group of River Hawks, she says Wayfair looks forward to continuing to develop its partnership with the university.
“The students are very driven and always eager to take on new responsibilities,” says Oteri, who recently attended a Co-op Connection event on campus to meet with more students. “We are thrilled by their positive work ethic. It definitely does not go unnoticed.”
Making Their Mark
Like Regan, Bedard immediately applied to every co-op position available at Wayfair when he saw them on CareerLINK. Unlike Regan, he didn’t know much about the company — though he was immediately impressed when he discovered how quickly it has grown over the past decade.
“It’s cool to be at a company that has this much growth going on,” says Bedard, a junior from Dracut with a concentration in management information systems. As a supplier implementation co-op, he’s involved with the last step of communications before suppliers go live on the Wayfair website, applying what he’s learned in his MIS classes.
“Learning the basic foundation in class is one thing, but getting to see how people use it in the real world is another,” says Bedard, who also enjoys Wayfair’s open and transparent corporate culture, where not even the CEO, Niraj Shah, has his own office.
“I sit on the same floor as him — not that I go up and talk to him. I want to make sure I plan those words carefully,” says Bedard, who has spoken with plenty of others in the company, however, by starting up his own “Coffee with a Co-op” program, an idea he got while attending one of the company’s monthly co-op education events.
“Starting with my own department, I sent out a mass email to everybody introducing myself and saying I’d love to have coffee with you at some point, just to learn more about your role,” says Bedard, who had met with 20 different people through his first two months on the job. “The more you learn about the people around you, the more appreciation you have when something is stalled or there’s a bottleneck. You understand what they’re going through, and it helps everyone get along better.”
As co-op trailblazers of sorts, Bedard, Regan and Pham would all love to see many more UMass Lowell students follow in their footsteps (past Versace, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior) at Wayfair.
“I would love to know,” Bedard says, “that we performed well to the point where they said, ‘We’ve got to start bringing in more co-ops from UMass Lowell.’ ”