Integrated Project Management Co-op Connects Student to Global Campus Network

Integrated Project Management Co-op Connects Student to Global Campus Network

Long before Pinkal Patel started her Master of Science in Project Management at Northeastern University’s Toronto campus, she would spend time researching major Canadian construction companies. With an undergraduate degree in architecture from her native India and an interest in construction project management, this was Pinkal’s way of learning about Canada’s career landscape. Months into her university co-op program in Toronto, the research became useful as Pinkal began to consider the degree’s built-in co-op work terms. By revisiting her compiled list, Pinkal set in motion a wildly successful co-op placement at a top construction firm — and a demonstration of the power of Northeastern University’s global campus network.

Taking Co-op Initiative

“My cousin graduated from Northeastern in Boston, which is how I came to know that Northeastern has a Toronto campus that offers a master’s degree in project management with a focus on construction management, which is rare,” says Pinkal. “I was also very much interested to find something with a co-op option because I saw how beneficial it was for my friends in getting exposure to Canadian work practices and companies. You are able to test out your knowledge and maybe even kickstart your career.”

Not limiting herself to opportunities in one city, Pinkal started to scour job postings that went beyond local listings on Northeastern University Toronto campus’s job board. That’s when she came across an opportunity for a project coordinator co-op position in Vancouver with EllisDon. A permanent fixture in the global construction market, EllisDon is a leading construction and building services company which, annually, completes in excess of $5 billion worth of contracts. It was also one of the companies Pinkal had already researched. She immediately applied.

“As soon as I got an interview, I was excited because EllisDon was already giving me options for projects I could work on,” says Pinkal, who, in her role at the company, is working on one of British Columbia’s largest health care investments, the redevelopment of a major Lower Mainland hospital. “They also gave me the option of working for four months or eight months. The maximum duration for our university is six months, but I talked to my Career Services and Co-op Advisor and asked if I could work the extra months into the summer break. She told me to go for it. This was also a great opportunity to experience a different Canadian city.”

Lorraine Lei is Senior People and Culture Manager at EllisDon. She says that from her experience hosting and placing students for co-op terms, a student’s personality and drive to learn are what make these placements successful for the company and the student. Pinkal is the first Northeastern University – Toronto student EllisDon has hosted.

Why Does a Co-op Placement Matter?

“Co-op placements are an excellent method of networking with professionals in the construction industry,” she says. “It also allows the student to understand what they may or may not like in the industry to help guide them on their future career paths after graduation. I highly recommend the co-op program for students and employers to be involved.”

Pinkal’s Career Services and Co-op Advisor is Zeinab Alamagan. Her position involves helping students to understand the Canadian labour market by creating relevant content and resources, assisting with resumé development, running workshops, and teaching a preparatory course. When Zeinab came into her role a year ago, Northeastern University’s Toronto campus had about four students in co-op placements. Today, after a nearly 170 per cent growth in one year, there are about 115 students at various organizations. Like Lorraine, Zeinab says the benefits of co-op are extensive.

“When Pinkal told me about the EllisDon opportunity in Vancouver, I said, ‘Let me tell you this, go! If you have the opportunity to travel in Canada, and you get to go, go.’ She left so happy to accept this job, and this is really what we want for our students.

“Co-op is a fantastic opportunity that, as co-op advisors, we call a safe space. Employers set up co-op as an opportunity for learning, so it’s a wonderful experiential opportunity to apply their knowledge with less pressure. It’s also very important, especially for students from equity-seeking backgrounds. Navigating the labour market may be more difficult for them, so co-op becomes a stepping-stone into their field.”

In fact, even Lorraine says she has seen that stepping-stone turn co-op students into construction leaders at EllisDon. Years later, they are running departments and areas of the company. In this way, according to Lorraine, hosting co-op students allows EllisDon to recruit more future leaders as they graduate from their post-secondary studies.

While Pinkal is the first Northeastern University student from Toronto’s campus that EllisDon has hosted, Lorraine says she had made quite an impression — so much so that EllisDon is now hiring a second student, Prit Patel, from the Master of Science in Project Management program.

“Pinkal has been a great addition to the team and has been willing and able to adjust to each task she has been presented with,” says Lorraine. “Kevin Bird, EllisDon’s Assistant Project Manager and Pinkal’s People Leader says that in addition to her standard coordination duties, Pinkal has been a pivotal part of developing our Greenhouse Gas Emissions Tracking pilot program, which involved collecting data directly from our sub-trades and extracting data from our financial management software. After gaining new construction experience in the first half of her co-op term, she has pivoted to working with the design team to further complement her background in architecture. Pinkal has great things lined up for her future, and we are thrilled to be a part of her career path.”

Adds Pinkal, “I am really enjoying my co-op experience and would be happy to return to EllisDon after I complete my studies. I’m familiar with my team now and the work culture is so great that work doesn’t even feel like work sometimes. They are also very flexible if I need to attend or a school meeting or anything. It’s great to be able to relate what I learned in my case studies and in my courses to a real-world project.”

A Globally-Connected University

As the first two Northeastern Toronto students to find placements in Vancouver, Pinkal and Prit are blazing the trail for other students looking for co-op positions outside of their home campus city. Zeinab has also helped to connect them with Northeastern’s Vancouver campus, further strengthening the university’s global network.

“I connected Pinkal with the Vancouver campus co-op advisor so she can have a connection with Northeastern Vancouver during her co-op term,” says Zeinab. “We have created a co-op campus mobilization strategy moving forward. I send the co-op advisor any student names who secure positions in B.C. and she does the same for students in Vancouver securing co-op positions in Ontario. This way, students feel supported and we have a strategy to share co-op opportunities between campuses, which also helps to build relationships with organizations across Canada.”

The campus connection is part of the institution’s Academic Plan, which calls for employing a global first mindset to heighten the university’s capacity to develop and target learning experiences and research opportunities to new and changing contexts.

Toronto was the first Canadian addition to Northeastern University’s global campus network. Beyond Toronto and Vancouver, the network includes the flagship campus in Boston as well as regional campuses in places such as Charlotte; London, U.K; Portland, Maine; San Francisco; Seattle; and Silicon Valley. The university’s partnerships — through undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as faculty research collaborations — include more than 3,300 businesses and non-profits in more than 150 countries on six continents.

“Our Toronto students who head to Vancouver, and vice versa, have the knowledge that if they need a space to work, or if it’s after-hours here and they need a hand, the local co-op advisor can help them navigate and problem solve,” says Zeinab. “Pinkal, for example, has access cards to buildings at the Vancouver campus and can book office space. Students also get to meet their peers at another campus, which opens up more networking opportunities. Overall, our campus connection strategy tells students, ‘We’re here and we are a whole network that can help you.”

By Izabela Shubair

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