Fellow Rachel Merrill Shares Her Human-Centric Approach to Consulting
A rising senior at Brigham Young University, Rachel Merrill hails from American Fork, Utah. She participated in the first Washington, D.C. Beacon Fellowship in 2019 at the Edlinguist Solutions client site. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys spending time with friends and family, dancing, and reading. Here, Rachel shares a bit about her background and her Beacon experience.
Rachel, what are you studying right now?
I'm studying experience design and management. It's housed within the business department and is really a mix of HR, design thinking, event planning, and innovation. We learn how to analyze the experience that an employee or customer has at a company and then delve into questions like: "How can we change those experiences?" or "How can we increase brand loyalty?" It's all about human experience. I love it.
That’s really neat. What are your future career goals?
I'm interested in design consulting or experience consulting. I like the company IDEO; they are a consulting company with design teams that work on social innovation projects in various fields like education, tech or even clothing. They work from a design perspective and take a human-centered focus in solving problems. It's a very creative approach, and I like that. So maybe sometime in the future I'll work in a job like that, or eventually I'll start up my own company. I don't really know yet what my future will look like, but I'm very passionate about social innovation. I want to make big impacts in communities or help women have greater drive and ambition in their careers.
How did you use your passions in your Beacon Fellowship project?
I was able to blend problem solving and creativity. I'm very human-focused. I kept saying: "What do the people say about this design or product?" My team went out and interviewed people one on one on the streets and gleaned insights from them. I like learning from the person who is going to be using the product or the service or experiencing what we’re providing. You can make a mistake by making something you think is amazing without really understanding your customer base. When you realize they actually don’t like your product, you've wasted time. Whereas, if you learn from their needs first, you're designing something from the start that's going to actually solve their problems.
That’s great. Tell me - why did you initially decide to pursue The Beacon Fellowship?
I wanted to experience consulting because I've been curious and haven’t yet had much experience in the field. I also really liked the idea of having a mentor from a top firm like BCG, Bain or McKinsey. I knew I'd be working with someone who's been there, knows the ins and outs, and can give me a clear picture of what the work looks like. From what I read on the Beacon website, it looked like I'd be working on projects that would actually have an impact; it wouldn't be busy work. So, I was really excited to have that experience and a really cool mentor. And finally, I also liked the idea of exploring somewhere new. I was thinking about going to London and then that program became full, so I chose D.C. which ended up being better choice for me. I’d considered living on the East Coast, but had never really explored it enough to know. So this was a good opportunity to do that and make lasting professional connections while I was at it.
Did your Project Lead Yusuf meet your expectations?
Yeah, he taught me a whole new way of thinking about things. Also, I gained a really clear picture of what my life would be like as a consultant. It was really valuable.
Yusuf drove home the idea of the pyramid structure of problem solving; I was used to solving problems with the design thinking approach which is less streamlined. He also emphasized the importance of clear communication in the delivery of any message, whether through presentation slides or in a conversation. If I am able to say “My answer is this, and here's three reasons why” or “Here are three areas we need to discuss,” it's just so clear and effective. I also appreciated his points on the importance of storytelling; when we communicate, we're telling a story and it should connect with people. That really resonated with me. When you put together a presentation, he said, don't go into the details of each slide first. Start with a headline on each slide. If you scroll through all the headlines you should have a complete story. That’s when you go in and fix the details. But if the big picture doesn't make sense yet, don't fill out the details just yet. I know this will help me make my presentations more quickly and will help in any job I eventually have.
What was it like working with your client, Edlinguist Solutions?
I really liked working with LaNysha at Edlinguist. She was very open, gave good feedback and accepted new ideas. She didn't micromanage. I also liked the startup vibe; it was new and fresh, and the energy of figuring out how to do things was exciting.
For the first half of the Fellowship, I was working on the childcare app project. Halfway through, LaNysha asked whether someone could help out with the food handler permits project. I had already contributed what I could to the childcare app, so I decided to switch over and learn more about financials, markets and data analysis. The new project was more of a challenge for me, but it was really meaningful because I got to use a different perspective.
How did you feel about the final presentation?
Ultimately, I was proud of what we presented. There's still a lot of work to do, but I actually feel like our work is something that Edlinguist is going to use to make a big decision. They're using our information and our research to decide whether or not to enter a particular market. That's exciting.