Co-op Pushed Me Ahead of My Peers

     I was filled with nerves as I walked for the first time through the door of the Courier-Post newsroom in southern New Jersey. It was June 1967. I was just 18 years old and finished with my freshman year of academics at Northeastern University. This was the start of my first “co-op” experience. I would be a reporter for this large circulation daily newspaper. I was startled to realize how much younger I was than everyone else on staff. I THOUGHT I was an adult, but in retrospect, I realize I was just a baby. And I was about to embark upon the most impactful learning experience of my life — for better AND for worse!

     I knew nothing about Northeastern until months before I enrolled there. For financial reasons, it was either Northeastern or a state school. In 1965, Northeastern was well known in Massachusetts, but an unknown commodity in my home state of Pennsylvania. A neighbor mentioned her plan to enroll there because of the work-study opportunities, and I jumped right onto that bandwagon. I had a very sick and unemployed father, and there was little money for my tuition. So, in September 1966, I matriculated at Northeastern.

     I walked through that newsroom door as a naive suburban kid, and I emphasize KID. Soon, from my seat in the middle of the action, I would learn about more than writing news, features and weekend magazine stories. The writing was the easy part for me. I would learn about The Real World at the paper. In the Courier-Post newsroom were young adults who were engaged to be married to one person and screwing around with others. WHAT? I believed in Happily Ever After. In Loyalty. In Faithfulness. I would find myself being hit on wherever I went. I would learn how blatantly and publicly abusive and retaliatory an editor could be, after I refused to sleep with him. I would learn even more about drugs. Oh yes, and about strong drinks with, or instead of, lunch. I would learn, in that newsroom, that not everyone loathed the war in Vietnam, as I did; and, in fact, that some of the editors and administrators were passionately Republican. I would learn how unpopular and incomprehensible it would be to The Big Editor, when I instructed him not to withhold federal taxes from my paychecks until the war ended. He was speechless!

For me, co-op was a lifesaver in a million ways. It paid my bills. It put me in a position to write news and feature stories, to craft food and entertainment reviews, to speak my truth and my passion in front-page columns. Sometimes my idealism and naivete undoubtedly amused my senior peers. 

     My work placed me in shady environments, close to people who could easily have harmed me. But didn’t. I met and hung out with anti-war activists; a new close friend was one of the Camden 28, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists arrested after breaking into a local draft board office. I struggled with ethical dilemmas, such as assignments to interview parents whose children had recently died. Sometimes I refused to do what seemed unnecessary or unethical. And still, they didn’t fire me!

     I drove in a blizzard to Princeton University for Coed Weekend, when the men were deciding whether to admit women in the future. For once, I was interviewing people my own age, which felt so crazy to me. For another story, I trained briefly, and worked a stint as a stewardess for a major airline. I have the pictures to prove it. I was fully unprepared for the rudeness, rowdiness and disrespect of many passengers onboard.

     Co-op taught me about hard work, about getting along, about stretching, about tolerance and intolerance in the world, about kindness and unkindness among staff and readers. It gave me confidence in myself as a writer, a communicator of important information, and a sharer of my point of view. But most important of all, co-op placed me in a unique position among same-aged peers who had no job experience when they graduated from college. I felt so far ahead of the pack. And, in truth, I was.

     In 2020 and 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked Northeastern University as the No. 1 college in the country for excellence in internship programs. I was not surprised, but I was truly proud. I could not have asked for more than Northeastern provided in experiential education.