As an Analytics Co-op at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, I was given the freedom to blaze my own trail in order to make a real contribution to the team.

For as long as I can remember, I have been excited by — and have thrived in — situations that allow me to explore new ideas and take bold risks. This disposition kicked into high gear when I convinced my parents to let me attend summer camp in the United States between my 11th and 12th grade school years.

During that summer, I was fortunate enough to spend time in Los Angeles, New York City, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C., all of which provided me with unique experiences unlike any I would have had back home in Vietnam. By the time I was boarding my return flight to Hanoi  for my final year of high school, I had realized that attending college in the U.S. would be the best way for me to activate my full potential — as a student, as a person, and, eventually, as a professional.

Over the next several months, I applied to (and got accepted by) several American schools, but ultimately decided to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia. This choice was driven in no small part by Drexel Co-op, one of the world’s oldest, more expansive cooperative education programs. Drexel Co-op is designed to accelerate the learning process and encourage students to think about their future plans as early as possible — just the kind of high-stakes educational program I was looking for.

With nearly two years of school and one completed co-op under my belt, I can say with certainty that I made the right decision.

Finding My Way to Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

As my freshman year at Drexel was winding down, I began preparing applications for my first co-op. This was not exactly a pain-free process, but after a grueling two weeks of interviewing, my final choice ended up being surprisingly simple.

Within 12 hours of receiving an offer from Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, I accepted. Conducted by then Senior Analytics Associate (now Data Strategy & Analytics Manager) EB Cho, my interview with Saatchi stood alone as the only interview that felt more like a genuine conversation than a rote interrogation.

At the end of the day, the prospect of working for a boss with whom I knew I was on the same page — and who I believed would support me as I found my footing in a new professional environment — was too exciting to turn down. And, in more ways than one, this great first impression proved to be not only an accurate representation of Saatchi as an organization, but a sign of the overwhelmingly positive experience I was about to have.

Getting Comfortable

Admittedly, when I first arrived at Saatchi, I was faced with a steep learning curve. Yes, I was a Finance and Business Analytics major at Drexel, but I was also a 19-year-old stepping into his first “real” workplace. Fortunately, the team at Saatchi afforded me ample time to study the core concepts I needed to understand to contribute to their work, and to become accustomed to the way they approach their business. I also received a fair amount of hands-on training, something I simply would not have had access to in a traditional college setting.

As much as I appreciated this training — and the space I was given to get up to speed — this first stretch of my co-op eventually became rather monotonous. A lot of studying, not much doing. However, this all changed once I received my first client assignment.

Contributing to an actual account helped me feel invested in my daily work in a way that had been previously precluded by the detachment inherent to having my nose “buried in the books.” Of course, given my relative lack of background and experience, my initial client tasks were fairly straightforward. As such, I was able to complete them in far less time than had been allotted, giving me the leeway to do what I love: take a strategic risk.

Taking the Initiative to Eliminate Process Inefficiencies

One of the first things I noticed once I got to know the Saatchi team was how well they regarded Mackenzie Gray, their Summer 2018 Data Science & Engineering Intern. As part of his internship, Mackenzie developed an innovative (and ultimately award-winning) tool called ReferralMap. And while I was neither a data scientist nor a programmer, I believed that I, too, was capable of taking the initiative to develop a solution that would catch my supervisors’ eyes.

My first client assignment consisted primarily of regularly pulling and/or updating data from various platforms. In my view, there were a number of unnecessary inefficiencies built into the processes I had been taught for doing so, so I took it upon myself to figure out a more streamlined solution. Each day, after I had completed my assigned work, I pored over any resource I could find that might have helped me eliminate these process inefficiencies. All this work paid off in the end, as I managed to create a data pipeline that could execute an entire monthly data pull in just a handful of minutes.

As I had hoped, EB was thrilled when I showed her my solution, and she was quick to parade it around to numerous managers on the team. As a result of this self-started project, the Saatchi team began to recognize that I had something substantial to contribute, and that they could trust me to solve problems creatively. For the remainder of my co-op, I was not only allowed, but encouraged to create outside-the-box systems that would make everyone’s jobs easier and more efficient.

My Experience in a Word: Empowerment

Just as being assigned real client work helped me become more invested in my role, the credibility that stemmed from being welcomed into the Saatchi team in earnest made me feel tremendously empowered. In fact, if I had to boil down my experience as an Analytics Co-op at Saatchi to a single theme, it would be the value of empowerment — in two senses.

First, the professional culture at Saatchi is built around team-oriented mutual empowerment. There is a clear recognition that collaborative work drives the best results, so much so that Saatchi’s new office space (which we moved into midway through my co-op) adheres to an “open concept.” No one has an assigned desk, upper management isn’t sequestered away in corner offices, and as a result, asking for assistance or feedback has been transformed from a painstaking “email back-and-forth, schedule an appointment, wait around for hours, repeat” nightmare into a much more fluid “walk-by” process.

But while the Saatchi team places a premium on collaboration, they also realize that specific team members are better-equipped than others to excel in specific circumstances. Doing whatever needs to be done to get the best results for clients is the team’s unfaltering North Star, and sometimes that means empowering one or two people to blaze a new trail that only they are in a position to blaze.

Even as a teenaged co-op, I was empowered to flex my muscles in pursuit of better outcomes for the team, which as far as I can tell, is far from the norm in the corporate world. Perhaps more than anything else, my experience at Saatchi showed me that my approach to problem-solving is a perfect fit for a forward-thinking marketing agency, which is why I have since switched my major from Finance and Business Analytics to Marketing .

Ultimately, working for an organization like Saatchi gave me exactly what I was looking for when I decided to attend Drexel: the freedom to explore new ideas and take bold risks.

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