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Co-op Reflection: Lucy Hewitt

Lucy Hewett, an Urban Informatics student, recently completed her co-op experience with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. 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 Lucy to check in on her experience.

My co-op was with the Research Department of the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The Research Department is a subset of the BPDA whose activities include answering research questions and publishing regular reports, such as the Economy Report, and Boston at a Glance, which is an overview of Boston residents’ age distribution, educational attainment, and more. These reports can be found on the BPDA website.

As a co-op, I would help the department answer research requests and pitch in with the larger reports and ongoing projects. For example, I worked on several community presentations. This involved using U.S. Census data to make graphs of characteristics of different community groups in Boston. One presentation included a chart of the earnings of Boston residents who are Vietnamese compared to all Boston residents. These ended up in PowerPoints that were presented at different community meetings around the city.

The project I worked on the longest was a presentation about veterans in Boston. While I was working with the Research Department, they had a couple other co-ops, including a high school student who was doing a semester-long project on Boston veterans. I spent the first few months of co-op working with her one day a week to help her collect data and learn how to use Stata, Excel and PowerPoint. However, when Boston City Hall closed down most of the buildings and we started working from home, her internship ended and I took over her project, with assistance from co-workers. The presentation was an overview of the characteristics of Boston veterans, including how many veterans live in Boston, when they were in the military, what their educational attainment is, where they get health insurance from, and whether they have a service related disability.

Because of these two projects, a lot of my co-op experience involved looking into smaller communities within Boston, which I had a lot of fun with. Transitioning to working from home didn’t change my bigger projects, but it did change the workflow for the Research Department. Right before we started working from home we were starting to put together this year’s Economy Report. However, post-pandemic, Boston’s economy is going to look a lot different than anyone anticipated in January or February. So, the department reprioritized their ongoing projects, but was then hit with a wave of pandemic-related requests from other departments and from organizations outside of city government. We worked on figuring out how many non-profits and small businesses are in Boston, and how many employees they have and how much money they anticipated losing. I enjoyed being able to work on something directly related to the pandemic, and the co-op as a whole was a very positive experience and a valuable learning opportunity. 

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