UC Co-Op = Opportunity: How One Co-Op Assignment Kicked Off a 20-Year Career
Written by Nikki (Carter) Walden (BA, 1996)
Nikki was recently named one of the Department of Communication’s 50 Communication Champions. As a UC Co-Op student from 1995 to 1997, her experience turned into a nearly 20-year career with her Co-Op employer, Luxottica, the global leader in optical retail and manufacturing.
UC’s Co-Op program simply changed my life. When I answered the phone that summer morning in 1995, I never dreamed the Co-Op opportunity on the other end of the line would grow into a career that spanned two decades. What began as a Co-Op PR position in Luxottica’s non-profit sector became a career managing Corporate Communications for 35,000 associates, then later to a Relationship & Communication Liaison in its global Information Technology department.
Opportunity to Narrow the Playing Field
UC’s world class Co-Op program allowed me to “test drive” a career before choosing a permanent position after graduation.
As a sophomore at UC, I was quickly getting overwhelmed by the career opportunities on the horizon at graduation. For me, the field of Communication was so vast…Would I like Marketing or PR better? What about non-profit? Would I be any good at writing communications? Would a big corporate office be a good fit for my personality? Did I prefer working in a small team?
I knew a paid Co-Op position would help me figure it out. After all, what did I have to lose? Co-oping was short-term, paid fairly well and allowed me to test what was right (and not-so-right!) for myself before committing to a permanent position.
Opportunity to Expand the World
Back in 1995 as a Co-Op student, I joined Luxottica’s non-profit sector OneSight (then called Give the Gift of Sight). As a start-up charitable program, I was one of only three people on staff, so I did a lot of everything… a lot of grunt work like moving boxes and mailing things. But I didn’t expect the opportunity to do just as many meaningful things, like writing for the President of the company, becoming a team member on an international optical clinic to Mexico, and coordinating the largest day of giving across the company. I’m proud to say the program once made of three people is now a global program that has provided eyecare to more than 8.5 million people in need.
I also realized I needed to seize the opportunity to learn as much as I could while I was there. What were the unspoken rules expected of me? How did office politics work? How could I learn from the choices my colleagues were making? What should I wear (and just as importantly, what should I not wear…)? At least for me, as a Co-op student, I wasn’t expected to have it all figured out, and many people were willing to give me a smile and benefit of the doubt if I asked a silly question (and I asked many), or made a naive move (yes, I made some!). I can’t promise that would have been the case if I were a newly-hired, full time associate.
In my four six-month assignments there, I learned so many things. But one profound learning was the beauty of diversity among people – diversity of thought, experience, culture and beliefs. In a time when social media didn’t exist, it was rare to interact globally with others. But my Co-Op experience allowed me to work with some of the most intriguing thought leaders and charitably-minded people I have ever known.
Why Take the Opportunity?
Now, I understand my story may be rare, and not many students should expect to make a 20-year career from one Co-Op position. But as a former hiring manager, I know that a Co-op assignment will give you important, relevant experience that will set you apart from the competition…before you even graduate.
I’m indebted to UC’s Co-Op program and think every student should take advantage of the opportunity, especially knowing the new Co-Op option beginning in Fall 2015.
Here’s to many more years and thousands of UC students–including Communication majors–who will experience this great program!