How Co-ops and Capstones Inspire International Students’ Career Design

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By Ivan Todorov

May 4, 2020.

 After nearly 6 years in Boston, the finishing lines of my academic chapter have been written out. This time is filled with numerous joyful and rewarding moments that boil the excitement within me for what is coming. More than a million international students graduate from US colleges every year. They have similar excitement but also are facing similar challenges. “Which industry should I choose for elucidating my core and maturing my presence? What kind of company, entrepreneurial venture, corporation, or consulting firm would be most engaging. Which one will help me grow? Which geographical location would fit best my career trajectory?”

Now that I have completed this chapter of my life and am ready for the next one, I look back and reflect on what made the biggest contributions to my desire of shaping my own space in the professional world and sharpen my voice as an upcoming expert in the field.

Co-op as an Investment in Career Design

I am an international student at D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, originally from Bulgaria, whose career interest altered throughout the course of my academic career. My initial specialization in supply chain management was driven by the geographical location of my home country.

After doing two co-ops in the industry and completing an internship at an American tech firm in Germany, I realized that I could leverage my knowledge within the supply chain industry in the bigger, global trade picture. Billions of physical goods travel cross-continental every day, leaving traces of data along their way through sensors, barcodes, RFID chips, and other technologies. Whether the goods are leaving the port in Lyon (France), are at the fulfillment center at the cross-dock in Wisconsin, or are being cleared at the Mexican border, they left hundreds of data points behind. I enjoyed learning to leverage integrated software and synchronized databases to track and pinpoint a company’s inventory, and therefore provide the company with transparency over its supply chain. My last Co-op in Germany was the deciding factor to undertake the alternative major/concentration: management information systems.

Over the course of my three co-ops, I was able to gain insight into my preference of field, job options, work style, and setting. I had the opportunity to develop my hard and soft skill sets, create some great relationships, and ultimately raise my awareness of my abilities and areas of improvement. I was thrilled to be exposed to a variety of interconnectivity systems within businesses, database management techniques, data visualization, and the overall backend operating of any business. If I have to describe my co-ops with one word, it would be invaluable. They have served as a triple investment in my personal, social, and professional capital. They helped me become the person I am today and have made me beyond grateful for having them under my belt.

Capstone Courses as Stepping Stones 

For the Business System Integration capstone, I served as a consultant for a company working on how to structure its business processes, align its data processes, create a dummy database, and integrate the information product within an application. That would be compatible with a phone, tablet, and desktop. Ultimately, the purpose of the application was to provide the customer with complete data transparency and resiliency of the life cycle of the products of each party involved along the company’s supply chain.

In the Strategy in Action capstone, we applied the “Make Your Case” method of Dr. Ivy, where we conducted a consulting case for a real client – a COO of the Cedral Tassoni Italian company, who asked us to work on a global strategy of business extension challenge that his company was working on. This is a case brief of the project that we delivered to the client, and he was impressed with the value-added of our work. By leveraging my multidimensional background and critical thinking, I was inspired by the value that our impact-focused consulting generated for the client we worked with.

My Takeaway

An internship or a co-op is an ideal way for a student to apply their knowledge gained in the classroom to a real-world environment. The capstone course is meaningful if it connects us with a real-life company, similar to the one we envision ourselves working for.  By doing internships in startups and multi-billion dollar organizations, both in the private and public sector, and conducting “Make Your Case” consulting projects within my capstone projects,  I have gained insights in:

  • Technical and non-technical tools required in the 21-st century work-place
  • Organizational structures, management strategies, and team dynamics
  • Organizational hierarchies, company norms, and values
  • Working styles and cultural awareness
  • Regulatory and legal compliances of employees at the workplace and of the company itself within its industry

Internships, co-ops, and capstone projects should provide an opportunity for decision-making and making an impact. A point that shouldn’t be neglected is that there is a possibility for the student to be positioned in a company that provides a less than optimal experience. For example, the inability of their manager to give them good exposure to the role or not necessarily treat them the way they should be treated might influence their perception regarding the job role. However, looking at the positive in the negative, the students would learn from the company’s mistakes, and going forward in their career would avoid acting similarly.

What’s Next?

Despite the prolonged graduation, I do not regret the time invested to find my path, in fact, I highly recommend work-based learning, especially when students have an opportunity to “make your case to shape your space” in the industry of their choice, and therefore, craft their own edge for today’s job market.

The co-ops and capstone courses gave me a sense of direction and expanded my agenda of skill sets that I can use to help companies find a solution to their challenges, without limiting myself to the supply chain industry. I managed to leverage my background, research, and data analytics skills to pinpoint the root of the problem and find a viable solution to this set of challenges. I provided recommendations for companies in the food & beverage, media, and supply chain industries, and now I know that I would love to expand or build upon this portfolio of industries. The workflow of a constantly changing client base and their challenges makes me want to showcase my adaptability in different environments. The very idea that I could explore different industries and work in solving real-life challenges was an incredible opportunity.

The most important realization I made was that I did not have to choose this or that avenue for my career development. Instead, I could continue embracing the richness of my multidimensional professional core that would bring together my experiences in the supply chain, information analytics, and consulting for impactful results in global settings.

About the Author

 Ivan Todorov is a recent, dual concentration, graduate from Northeastern in Information Systems and Supply Chain Management.

Co-op Experience: 

MBTA – Role: Data Analyst, Sourcing and Procurement; Key Lesson: Get involved in cross-functional projects

Wayfair –Role: Regional Operational Specialist, Logistics; Key Learning: The value of data in supply chain

Applause –Role: Sales Intelligence, Sales; Key Learning: The drive for tech

 
Consulting Cases: 
 
Process First: Industry: Food/Logistics; Consulting case on: Integration of systems for supply chain transparency
Tassoni: Industry: Beverage; Consulting case on: Strategic expansion

Character:  Passionate about things and ideas. Enjoys looking for facts to solve challenges, whether personal or these of an associate. Makes things done. Currently on the lookout for a new opportunity to utilize accumulated skills and grow. LinkedIn profile.

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