Carmen Maria Mooney: Student placement story
BA (Hons) Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations student Carmen Maria Mooney shares how SACI placement has opened many doors for her in her professional career.

Can you tell us about the placement opportunity you were involved in?

SACI student Carmen Maria MooneyI had the opportunity to undertake my placement with Sprouts Farmers Market as 'Our Brands Intern' in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. I gained this position through a rigorous 5-month application, interview, and selection process with Entrepreneurial Scotland, which is a charitable organisation that provides life-changing fully funded placements in the UK and overseas to ambitious students from any background. The placement I undertook with Sprouts Farmers Market was a 3-month summer placement in person, which allowed me to receive a J-1 visa to be able to travel to the USA, work in corporate business for a fortune 500 company, and live alone for the very first time in a new country and culture! The experience from start to finish was absolutely incredible and I couldn't believe someone like me could receive an opportunity like this. I previously had always doubted my abilities academically, so to be selected by my first-choice host company really built my confidence and made me realise I am capable of things I never thought I was before. The Entrepreneurial Scotland team are an incredible organisation and my placement with Sprouts Farmers Market ended up being the best experience of my full life.

Can you tell us more about what your role entailed?

Sprouts Farmers Market is one of the fastest-growing retailers in the USA, which specialises in fresh, affordable, natural, and organic products. The company is known for pioneering a unique grocery model of 'Our Brands products' which offers an assortment of fresh produce and health & wellness products such as supplements and body care. My role within the company was 'Our Brands Intern' and focused on management and category strategy management. This meant looking at opportunities to refresh and modernise Sprouts private label brand within products, packaging and everything else that goes into the lifecycle of a product - from its initial concept idea to a completed product on the shelf.

My key tasks and responsibilities were -

  • Working with the brand team and brand director to review and develop packaging design briefs.
  • Editing creative briefs and discovering any potential flaws or errors that could be altered.
  • Conduct regular store walks to evaluate packaging execution on the shelf.
  • Collaborating with packaging managers on product photography, artwork, and workflow.
  • Sending daily emails to vendors and suppliers, keeping track of any projects the company was working on.
  • Partnering with outside creative agencies on an internal project for Sprouts products.
  • Contributing fresh new ideas to the Our Brands department.
  • Presenting all of my work over the course of the 3 months to the CEO of Sprouts Farmers Market.

What key skills did your placement teach you?

My placement not only taught me so many different skills for my professional development but also valuable life lessons. I loved being able to see the transferable knowledge and skills from university play out within a practical work setting for the first time. I was able to develop many skills mainly in time management and self sufficiency, as all tasks would be given to me at the beginning of the week to complete by the end. This allowed me to gain independence working in corporate business and enable me to keep track of my own projects, learning how to work under tight time restraints without constant supervision, especially when my mentors were busy with their own workload. I also developed an array of administrative skills such as new professional systems experience, share-point, salesforce and emailing outside agencies appropriately, which are very valuable to employers. I also learned that enthusiasm is invaluable, the CEO noted that my personal drive and enthusiasm were infectious, and I learned how important communication is as it leads to more opportunities when you put yourself out there.

What were your highlights and key successes of your time on placement?

My full experience was a highlight however, during my first week at Sprouts, I was scheduled to attend a company conference 'Sproutscon' in Dallas, Texas. This experience was a key part of my time at Sprouts as I met all of my co-workers. Our department had a large role in the conference, to promote and showcase new products, which meant we had to work as a team to achieve the final result, I had a great time bonding with my new co-workers and enjoying the success of 'Our Brands' promotion at the conference.

Did you face any challenges during your time on placement?

One challenge I faced was the apprehension of moving to the USA and living alone for the very first time. This was a massive jump for me as I had always lived at home or with others. I worried about being alone with the pressure of the job, moving somewhere completely new and feeling isolated, however, I was very lucky to have the best working culture and team from day one. I met people that I will have lifelong connections with. I developed a lot of independence whilst on my placement, but at the same time loads of communication and networking skills, as I was meeting new individuals daily which was a breath of fresh air after almost two years of university online due to Covid.

How do you feel that your studies at Edinburgh Napier University prepare you for this placement?

Yes! 100% I spent a lot of time learning about important aspects of the Sprouts brand architecture and how much research goes into a retail brand such as their tone of voice, brand personality, communication style and marketing efforts, which seamlessly integrated my learnings from modules like 'Branding' and 'Professional Advertising', into my work placement. I think this role was the ideal fit for me, as it appeared to integrate both sides of my learnings from my specific degree at university - the creative arts side, and more of the communications and marketing business side. I have always described my strengths as being creative however, I am too business orientated to pursue a career in solely art or graphic design, therefore this internship took intricate parts of my creativity and channeled them through working in corporate business.

Do you think your experience(s) from the placement affected your future career plans or last year of university?

100% I have seen myself develop into a young professional since undertaking my placement, in comparison to feeling like just an undergraduate student before. I now have a real sense of which career path I would like to go down and have access to a wide network of individuals and organisations. This opportunity has made me excited for my future and I look forward to gaining a full-time role after my final trimester of university!

What advice would you give to someone considering doing a placement at university?

Be confident, work hard and believe in yourself, and you will achieve more than you ever imagined! By undertaking a placement, the world is your oyster, and you could end up with a very special experience like mine. My feedback from Sprouts Farmers Market stated that I exceeded expectations as a placement student and did Scotland and my university proud.