Nicole WildWomen have outnumbered men at the polls in every presidential election since 1964. Nicole Wild Merl, a recent graduate of Northeastern’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program, wants to ensure the trend continues.

Wild Merl created the first virtual co-op within the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies to launch WomenVotes.org, a social platform focused on empowering women to share their voice and vote in the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m an advocate for women and passionate about civic engagement,” says Wild Merl, who knew her mentor, Thomas Cook, felt the same way. “I asked him, ‘If we can get approval to do a co-op around creating this platform, would you sponsor it?’ He was in the middle of doing an IPO but still said, ‘Yes, of course.’”

Cook—vice president of strategic alliances and development for pharmaceutical company TYME, Inc. and CEO of public relations and marketing firm Thomas Cook & Associates—partnered with Wild Merl to launch WomenVotes.org in February. In just five months, the platform has attracted more than 1,600 Twitter followers and the attention of national organizations such as Ellevate Network, the National Association for Female Executives, Vital Voices, and the The Women’s Debate.

Through the project, Wild Merl and Cook were introduced to Monique Morrow, chief technology officer of New Frontiers Development and Engineering at computer networking company Cisco. Morrow is an editor of “The Internet of Women,” a book scheduled to publish in late July featuring a compilation of personal narratives and case studies supporting women in technology, and asked Wild Merl for a contribution.

“The book shares how we created WomenVotes.org, the importance of women votes, and how technological platforms and key alliances are creating new opportunities to raise awareness,” Wild Merl says.

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Cook and Wild Merl with the 2016 Student Scholar Co-op Award. (Image via Cari Roche)

Wild Merl enrolled in Northeastern to further explore today’s technological platforms and enhance her communication and digital fluency skills. When she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2014, she knew she wanted to enroll in a master’s program, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. She discovered Northeastern’s co-op program and visited the university’s Charlotte campus.

“We went through everything,” Wild Merl says. “We talked about what program would be best based on what I wanted to achieve. I felt like Northeastern was going to be my home. Even though I was taking classes online, I had the campus here to connect with other people.”

Wild Merl decided to pursue her Master’s in Corporate and Organizational Communication, because the program offered a social media concentration. The courses helped Wild Merl create a social media policy and guidelines for WomenVotes.org and start building a community of people passionate about civic engagement and women’s rights, including Northeastern alumni, such as Caitlin Morelli and Misty Rosas, who are currently serving on the Millennial Advisory Board for WomenVotes.org, and fellow Northeastern University–Charlotte student Pamela Darcy-Demski, who developed the organization’s logo and social media banners.

“When Northeastern says you’re ‘Networked for Life,’ it’s true,” notes Wild Merl, who now serves as a graduate student ambassador for Northeastern University–Charlotte.

Wild Merl received in June the College of Professional Studies’ 2016 Student Scholar Co-op Award. She credits Ellen Stoddard, co-op director for the College of Professional Studies, for her accessibility, flexibility, and willingness to even test a virtual co-op, and Dr. Carl Zangerl, assistant teaching professor and academic director of the Corporate and Organizational Communication program, for his continued support.

“This co-op experience let us create a project from the beginning that Thomas and I both believed in,” Wild Merl says. “The opportunity challenged me to apply all the fundamentals I was learning into a startup. I was able to create something with the full force of my education behind me.”

And her education might not be over.

“I am considering returning to school for my Doctor of Education,” Wild Merl says. “My experience was so positive, I’m realizing, ‘Wow, I can take this forward.’”