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Real-world experience key to alumna’s success

Sarah Sutherland is a former structural engineer. In June, she graduated from the Daniels College of Business, where she earned an MBA with a business analytics focus. Now, thanks to her Daniels education, she’s a consultant. When Sutherland decided to pivot careers, she had a specific type of academic experience in mind to set herself up for success.

Sarah Sutherland

Courtesy: Sarah Sutherland

“Getting to go to a school that had a strong focus on experiential learning was a big driver for me in choosing Daniels for my education. The opportunity to work with real companies on real problems gave me the assurance that I was pivoting into the right career and gave me valuable projects to talk about in job interviews,” Sutherland said.

As part of her coursework at Daniels, she worked on projects with Mile High United Way, Charles Schwab and AT&T.

In September 2018, she started working as a researcher and laboratory technician for the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC) through a graduate assistantship with Daniels. Within a year, she became a project manager and continued to work there until May 2020. The interdisciplinary center focuses on the study of human behavior with an emphasis on market-driven results. Its consumer insight research offers students the opportunity to make connections with a wide range of businesses.

“Sarah is an excellent researcher, very thorough and thoughtful, and a strong leader among her peers. She takes time to understand the business problem and considers alternative approaches to the research,” said Melissa Archpru Akaka, co-director of CiBiC and an associate professor in the Department of Marketing.

At CiBiC, Sutherland supported research projects across an array of industries and methods, including focus groups, experiments and interviews, as well as competitive and industry analyses. She also oversaw student-run research projects and helped to improve research processes and deliverables.

In her first year at CiBiC, she gathered and analyzed data for a client that hosted training courses.

“I created the instruments to conduct qualitative and quantitative research and was able to analyze the data and share the findings with our client. It added a valuable layer to my educational experience,” Sutherland said.

Her analysis aimed to determine correlations and statistical significance between several different factors and attendees’ overall satisfaction.

“It is rewarding to find valuable insights and be able to share those with the client so that the client can be well-informed and make changes that have a sustainable impact,” said Sutherland.

Her responsibilities at CiBiC grew over time.

“In her second year at CiBiC, Sarah served as both a researcher and a project manager, overseeing other peer researchers on multiple projects at a time. She also helped to formalize the process and develop a template for designing research projects that can be used in the future,” said Akaka.

Beginning in fall 2019, Sutherland worked at Sand Cherry Associates part time until spring 2020, when she accepted a full-time position as a consultant at the company. Her experience creating surveys, collecting data, analyzing results and communicating to clients gave her a leg up in the interview.

“Having experience with customer research, behavior and experience is directly related to the work I’m doing on current projects,” Sutherland said. “The experience I gained at CiBiC gave me the opportunity to lead similar projects in my current position, post-graduation. I was extremely fortunate to learn from Professors Melissa Akaka and Ali Besharat. Their guidance and the opportunities they gave me allowed me to grow beyond the Daniels MBA curriculum.