Chrystal Ding, an International Affairs student who is graduating this August, recently completed her co-op experience with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance. A co-op (cooperative education) is a signature learning experience designed by Northeastern to ensure an ideal blend of classroom instruction and real-world experience. We recently caught up with Chrystal to check in on her experience.
What were some of your core responsibilities at your co-op? Were there any particular tasks that you really enjoyed?
My job position at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance (DOI) was Consumer Information Ambassador. My core duties included answering consumers’ hotline calls and inquiries regarding various insurance problems, providing possible solutions to consumers, and assisting in case management duties of the administrative assistant and insurance examiners. I also attended and participated in meetings, conferences, and hearings held by the state. I enjoyed attending those events because I learned how the discussions contributed to the formulation of insurance regulations and decisions on a state level, as well as how the state laws and the surveillance of DOI play important roles in affecting insurance companies in writing their policies. In addition, I developed a better understanding of intergovernmental relations and public policies through the cross-departmental engagements.
What surprised you most about your co-op?
My assumption for government employees before this co-op was regimented, strict, and distant. In contrast to my assumption, everyone who works at DOI is amicable and the office has a harmonious and supportive team-based environment. I think the effective leadership, style, and adaptable managerial power within DOI supported cultivating this friendly culture. On the other hand, the large volume of direct interactions with consumers also contributed greatly in my learning experience about insurance. As a result, I was able to further expand my practical knowledge.
What course(s) do you feel best prepared you for your co-op experience?
There was one course, Public Administration (PPUA6500), that prepared me for my experience and helped me connect with my co-op. One of the books we read in that class, The New Public Service: Serving, Not Steering, written by Janet V. Denhardt and Robert B. Denhardt, discussed the relationship and collaboration between the government and its citizens, as well as the accountability and transparency in the public sectors. Many of the points discussed in the book raised intriguing thoughts that helped me better understand how the public policies affect the way public managers run the programs/organizations that they are tasked to do. While managing the responsibilities they ought to carry out, they need to continuously be cautious of certain factors such as strict regulations that may fully prohibit them from serving the community.
Would you recommend other students pursue a co-op experience? Why?
I would recommend other students to pursue a co-op experience. Through co-op, students will find aspects of the field that they may like or dislike, as well as other areas that they may be interested to explore. Especially for international students, I believe co-op will not only help them gain valuable and relevant experience, but also improve their communication skills. In addition, co-op will be a great way for them to build connections in foreign countries in their respective field.
For my co-op specifically, it provided me exposure for the basics of government structure. My interest and goals in working within the field of public service has strengthened. As an international student myself, this experience helped me better understand how politics, economics, social, and cultural factors affect the local government and the life of its residents in the U.S.
What was it like to do a virtual co-op?
In the beginning, it was definitely a big challenge for our office to transition from on-site work to remote due to COVID-19. Due to the nature of the work of DOI and most of government, agencies rely on on-site performance. For our office, one of the reasons that made the transition very successful was the strong and effective communication among the team members. Our administrative assistant was the person who had to figure out the logistics and the ways to complete administrative tasks remotely. There were a lot of phone calls, text messages, and emails within the team to facilitate that process. I had to figure out ways to be more efficient in planning my tasks ahead of time as well as being more meticulous and organized on the work that I completed.
What are your future plans?
I will be pursuing higher education in the upcoming five years. Ultimately, I will be working towards impacting change through the possibility of teaching college students in the future. My alternative plan is to work in a research nonprofit organization where I could utilize my skills and qualities to contribute to public services that can improve lives on a global scale.