By: Namish Modi and Zahra Sakhi
In a time when innovation is critical, University of Waterloo Arts students are using imagination, intuition and unique thinking to make a significant contribution at Loblaw Companies Ltd.
“When I think about the Arts field, I think what students bring to the table is looking at a problem differently, trying to look at it holistically," says Chaitanya Bhatt, director of innovation at Loblaw, one of the largest food distributors in Canada.
Bringing fresh ideas and creativity are skills that Arts co-op students bring to Bhatt’s team.
Organizations that have been able to succeed in the food industry have been adaptable and creative in how they apply themselves in the market.
Half of Bhatt’s innovation team is co-op students, signifying Loblaw's value of experiential learning.
Arts students work in a variety of roles at Loblaw including financial analyst, demand generation assistant, data analyst and brand management marketing assistant. They are key for transforming ideas into action.
“Imagination, intuition, holistic thinking, artistic approach; these are the aspects a typical Arts student (provides).”
“Ideas are rarely the endpoint,” Bhatt says. “They are a starting point. What I see from Waterloo students is their willingness to “bottom it out” and chase down the ‘so what’. Bhatt says that since innovation doesn’t follow a “charted path,” Arts students' diverse approach to solving a problem is critical.
Working through the pandemic: a standout student
During COVID-19, Bhatt mentions the adaptability that Arts students bring is valuable.
“For the foreseeable future, adaptability is going to be the top skill students are going to have to learn and employ in some way shape or form,” he says.
Bhatt began working with Alyssa Misola, a standout student, amid the beginning stages of the pandemic, in the Spring 2020 term.
As a result of the pandemic, there were a lot of technological advancements needed, especially for the user experience.
Misola, a Waterloo Global Business and Digital Arts student, used her innovation skills to further some of these advancements. She was able to create an internal event site using a mock-up design, that “absolutely blew the minds” of Bhatt’s team. The site helps solve an ongoing problem for the organization.
“In her explanation of the site, she talked about how she came up with the interface and it was based off the latest design principles and consumer research about how people interact with websites,” he says.
Misola describes herself as a people person, which made joining during the pandemic a much different experience.
However, virtual coffee chats and intern chats hosted by the co-op students at the organization helped.
“Having that constant communication and teamwork environment, simply because I thrive in it, really helped with my experience,” says Misola.
She says the culture at Loblaw allows you to “grow on what you want to do and learn what you want to do. They are honestly my corporate family you might say.”