Empowering student growth and leadership
One of the most valuable things students can have when beginning their career after college is real-world experience. For Northeastern students, experience in various career paths is not something they have to question if they will have, but is something every student graduates with.
Cooperative education students, otherwise known as co-ops, are students who spend a semester’s worth of time working with a company instead of attending classes. Students take part in an experiential learning program that places them with employers related to their academic experience. You might have worked alongside these students and not even realized it: co-ops are often completely immersed in a company’s initiatives and business decisions, and work full-time hours like any other employee.
Many students gravitate towards Northeastern for their higher education because of the opportunities they will have to work with companies as full-time students while still receiving credits towards their degree. At Airfox, we specifically work with the Northeastern co-op program to find students who are interested in a unique fintech experience. Students spend a semester with us as full-time employees, and are given responsibilities and projects that quickly integrate them into the team.
“The experience will allow them to develop basic skills first learned in class into more advanced level skill sets,” says Brian Albrecht, Associate Cooperative Education Coordinator at Northeastern University.
Meet our product manager co-ops
Our current co-ops, Jenny and Elizabeth, are both product managers at Airfox that joined through the Northeastern program. Jenny, a math major who is minoring in psychology, is used to embracing change and mastering different roles that she takes on.
Originally a pre-med and physics major, Jenny’s path through school has adapted as she’s found her passions, including taking over as the executive director for Peace Through Play, an organization that provides after school learning opportunities to underserved kids in the local community.
Elizabeth is a marketing and experience design major, with a minor in entrepreneurial engineering. Elizabeth stays busy with challenging and rewarding activities on campus, competing on the Northeast Triathlon team, serving as the Marketing and Events Director at Generate, and as a member of Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem Mosaic. She was a two-time Conference Lead for Interventions: Narrative, put on by Scout, a student-led design studio that coordinates speakers from organizations such as Airbnb, Pixar, and more to speak at their conference about design and creative thinking. She is now the Marketing and Events Director at Generate, Northeastern’s Product Development Studio.
We recently said goodbye to Jessie, a product manager who worked with Airfox as a co-op from January 2019 to August 2019. Jessie is a computer engineering major at Northeastern, who shares her passion for Israel with her fellow students by taking part in many activities and educational events around campus. She was also awarded the 2019 Ruderman Scholarship in Jewish studies for her immense work representing the program throughout her years at Northeastern.
Many students choose to pursue their undergraduate education at Northeastern specifically so they can take part in the cooperative education experience. Students partake in two to three different co-ops, allowing them to see how the career path their deciding on might play out in real life.
At Airfox, we are always eager to work with Northeastern students who are interested in working with startups. Choosing to spend part of their college experience taking on Airfox’s mission, our co-ops are given full responsibilities on impactful projects. Students are working in a dynamic environment with continuously moving parts, and Airfox works to empower them to find the aspects of the company that truly interest them.
Airfox brings the added experiences of working for an international company, something that drew Elizabeth to Airfox after a lot of searching for a co-op she thought she would be truly content with. “I’ve always been interested in working for an international company and am happy I was able to find a little piece of Brazil right here in Boston.”
Jenny applied to Airfox after taking an interest in the product managers at her previous co-op. When it came down to deciding between a business analytics position at Zipcar or the PM position at Airfox, Jenny chose the startup position because of Airfox’s focus on social change.
“It’s been hard for me to find something that combines both the technical and detail-oriented skills from my major with my passion for social change, but Airfox seemed like a good place to start!”
Leadership is key in this co-op experience
Jessie’s co-op experiences prior to Airfox focused on software automation and biomedical manufacturing. While she enjoyed her roles, it wasn’t until she started with Airfox that she took on real responsibilities as a decision-maker.
“A big surprise, and a good one, from working with Airfox is how much responsibility I got to take on,” says Jessie. “My communication skills have grown a lot during this time, and I’m really thankful to Airfox for that experience.”
Airfox employees truly value the edition of co-ops to the workforce and don’t hold back from letting the temporary employees lead different groups focused on a specific app feature.
“I would lead all types of projects from purchasing the right software tool, to engineering integrations and improvements, and more,” says Jessie.
“Airfox puts a lot of trust in us. In most intern roles I feel like you’re always underestimated and under-utilized which doesn’t make the experience meaningful,” says Jenny of her experience with leadership and trust as a co-op at Airfox.
Toss out your expectations
No matter how much research or experience a student has working in a specific role, the co-op experience provides an opportunity to create your own unique definition. “My knowledge of startups comes exclusively from the TV show Silicon Valley,” says Jenny. “I’m learning a lot just being here.”
The experience of immersing students in a work environment that’s rapidly experiencing change and growth allows our co-ops at Airfox to witness drastic changes in business cycles. “It’s so surprising how quickly priorities can change,” says Jenny.
“I’ve definitely been surprised by the sheer amount of things going on,” says Elizabeth. “New features, problems, solutions, and ideas crop up daily.”
The dynamic environment allows for opportunities to pull from skillsets co-ops may never have expected to be using during their time with Airfox. “I’ve been able to stretch my UX and Graphic design skills when creating mock-ups for future features, and it’s been so fun to see the design team actually take these designs, and make them into to a real-live app-screen,” Elizabeth shares.
That’s the thing about spending extended time at a startup; skills you thought were applicable become some of the most interesting parts of your experience, and then develop into real career paths.
“It is not uncommon for a student to observe something new at their co-op company and then return to Northeastern the following semester with the desire to learn about those things rather than the course of study that they had previously planned,” says Brian. “It is our hope that in the same, the co-op employers will pick up some of the fresh ideas that our students bring to the job everyday and integrate new methods of work into their culture.”
Real product implications in co-op work
A semester’s length of time is an eternity in startup years. Co-ops get to experience projects completing various stages of the life-cycle, as well as large company changes and brand launches. During Jessie’s time with Airfox, she took part in the product team’s work to integrate a user success tool into our rebranded digital banking service banQi. This tool simplified the process of responding to users when they experience issues in the app, significantly improving the quality of support our team can provide.
“All of our current call center agents in Brazil are using the tool that I was a part of. It’s been great to see it in action,” says Jessie.
Students enjoy seeing their work develop into solutions that are used by real people across the world in Brazil. “It’s really cool to see my coding project scaled up massively,” says Elizabeth.
“I actually have a direct impact on the development of the app and I’m learning so much more as a result,” says Jenny.
Where do they go from here?
While we wish our co-ops could continue with us at Airfox for longer than a semester, students return to their regular class setup after their designated semester ends.
For our current co-ops, the future means school, but also adjusting what they thought their plan was to include their newly developed skills and thinking methods learned while at Airfox.
“I’ve learned that I really enjoy Product Management and solving problems, and that I have a lot to learn to make it in this field,” says Elizabeth. “I’m so happy I’m getting to do a trial run in college for this career type, and that I get the Airfox team to lean on for support.”
Elizabeth is with Airfox until December of 2019, when she will return to classes and her work at organizations on campus. Jenny is also with Airfox until December, when she will go back to Northeastern for her final semester before graduating in May.
“I think I want to go to graduate school in the near future,” says Jenny. “Both of my parents immigrated to the United States to get their doctoral degrees so I’ve always been inspired to pursue the same!”
Do you want the opportunity to have the co-op experience with Airfox?
We are currently looking for interested Northeastern students to join the Airfox team as part of their co-op experience! We are looking for marketing, product (like Jenny, Jessie, and Elizabeth), and UX designer co-ops for the semester start in June of 2019. If you’re a Northeastern student, you can find Airfox positions listed on the NUCareers database.