Advancing San Diego Intern Spotlight: Oderah & Jo Christian, Benchmark Labs

The Advancing San Diego (ASD) Internship Program launched in Summer 2020 in a remote-capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic and aims to provide up to 100 San Diego-based employers fully subsidized interns. This program targets small employers with 100 employees or less, which comprise 98 percent of all businesses in San Diego, employ nearly two thirds of San Diegans, and account for 70 percent of job growth. A key issue for these companies has been a lack of time and resources to recruit the skilled talent necessary to continue their growth.

As students are closing out their Spring business internship experiences, EDC has rolled out this blog series to highlight the innovative local companies that comprise the third cohort of the program, and the interns they hosted. To date, ASD has placed 93 student-interns in local businesses, with $455,000 in total wages and support services paid. 

Oderah Ahiligwo (above)

This week, we sat down with Oderah Ahiligwo and Jo Christian Arenas, ASD interns at Benchmark Labs, a leading provider of IoT-based weather forecasting solutions for the agriculture, energy, and insurance sectors. The firm’s service helps reduce operating costs using proprietary machine learning software to provide precise asset specific weather forecasting.

Read on for more from Oderah (OA) and Jo Christian (JCA).

Tell us about yourself. 

OA: I am a former student athlete who enjoys swimming, investing, and conversing with many different types of people. I recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in economics and I am returning in the Fall to obtain my master’s in finance. After college, I aspire to have a career in the finance sector and hope to one day open a wealth management firm to help individuals become financially secure. Protecting the environment is something I also am interested in doing, which is why I’d like to focus on investing in companies with a high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) score. Fortunately, this summer I was afforded the opportunity to work at Benchmark Labs, an environmental service company as a market research analyst intern.

JCA: I am a student at California State University San Marcos and this is my first internship. I am currently a market research analyst intern at Benchmark Labs and I would like to thank both San Diego Regional EDC and Carlos Gaitan, CEO and Co-Founder of Benchmark Labs, for the opportunity they have given me. Carlos is an excellent leader, supporting his staff whenever challenges arise, and ensuring that his interns have a fun and educational experience.

Jo Christian Arenas (above)

How has your experience in the ASD Internship Program been, and what projects have been the most meaningful?

OA: My experience in the Advancing San Diego Internship Program has been wonderful. Working in a startup environment is fast paced and exciting. Just like any company, there are many moving parts but generally in startups, you get exposure to many different areas of business. One day I will be studying competitor’s pricing strategies and the next day I will be looking over a script for our videographer. The most meaningful work I did at Benchmark Labs was market research, which is a process that every company should engage in because it is often extremely rewarding. The conversations I had with potential customers helped shape the products that Benchmark Labs will offer next year.

JCA: It was a unique experience for me, considering I am an accounting student doing market research for the company. Part of my project is customer discovery, which includes calling companies for short interviews. I have learned to be patient with companies in my conversations with them, especially with the support from my leader, Carlos, since the work can be tough as times. It can also be rewarding when you receive those positive interactions with businesses, which at the end of the day, help inform Benchmark Labs on its product selection. Doing work outside your field brings in perspective, which is why I am very glad I took this internship.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your day-to-day, and what challenges have you faced as a student?

OA: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my day-to-day in many ways. I consider myself an extrovert and this explains why I find joy in creating relationships with new people. A university is usually a great place to do this, however, going to school virtually has made this more difficult. On top of this, I found learning solely through a computer screen is not my forte. A classroom setting is often more engaging and the pandemic required me to adapt to a new way of life.

JCA: I believe I am facing the same predicament as any other student during the pandemic, and that is finding motivation to get up from bed everyday. My internship is work-from-home and there were times where I was experiencing burnout from being being constrained to my room for the workday. What I did find helpful was the mentorship and positive reinforcement from Carlos and the team at Benchmark Labs.

What advice would you give to high school students looking for a successful career? 

OA: My advice to high school students would be to seek out every opportunity you see to learn and gain experience. Throughout your college journey, there will be opportunities to grow in different areas of business; reach out to them so you can develop a diverse set of skills and separate yourself from your peers. This will often lead to more opportunities and enable you to create a larger impact wherever you end up.

JCA: My advice is to network, whether it be on professional online business platforms or in-person business events. Getting your name out there raises the probability of you finding the work you desire. Also, be confident and learn to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone.

Learn more about Advancing San Diego and the Internship Program.

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