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Recent graduate Sophia Aguayo-Garber had the opportunity to participate in two very different coop experiences while she was pursuing her degree in Architectural Studies at the School of Architecture. We asked her to compare and contrast her experience and how they have influenced her future career goals.

Name: Sophia Aguayo-Garber
Class Year: 2020
Hometown: Worcester, MA

Where did you work?
I worked at TripAdvisor in the Office Experience Department. TripAdvisor is a global travel site, and I was working with the design of their offices. The Office Experience team works to design and maintain offices that fuel productivity and creativity through architecture, furniture, events, food, perks, and more.

I also worked at Handel Architects in New York City. Handel is based in NYC with an office of 140 people, with three other offices in Boston, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. They take on a range of large projects across the world, with a focus on sustainability.

Where were the firms located and what was it like to be working in those locations?
TripAdvisor’s headquarters are located in Needham, MA. This is about 25 minutes from Boston, and there is a free shuttle system that picks you up and drops you off right near Northeastern’s campus! Since it is outside Boston, TripAdvisor has a large but welcoming office building with a cafeteria that provides free (and delicious!) lunch each day. There are many additional perks such as a pub, cold brew on tap, plus many different coffee and snack options throughout the building. The extra space the office has being in the suburbs allows it to have all these perks and made every day enjoyable!

At HandeI, I was located at the New York City office located in the Financial District. Living and working in NYC has always been a dream of mine, so to live and work in such a vibrant part of Manhattan was incredible. My lunch breaks were on Wall Street or at the 9/11 Memorial, and I was working on projects that would affect the Manhattan skyline for years to come. Although I had never lived in NYC before, I have family there and have often visited throughout my life. It was great for me to be able to expand my knowledge of the city, especially with all the amazing architecture that I have learned about in my studies. The city itself is inspiring, and there’s always something to do!

How did you experience in the studio prepare for your coop experience?
My studio experiences really helped me grasp the scale of the spaces I was working with at TripAdvisor. The office I designed ranged from twenty person spaces to a thousand person spaces, so I had to have a grasp on what people wanted and needed. I did research into specific office designs, but mainly relied on spatial qualities I had learned in studio.

My experiences in studio were absolutely crucial to prepare for my co-op at Handel. Although I was learning Revit for the first time, I was able to apply concepts of spatial design and composition to everything I was working on. I also created multiple models in the model shop to show clients. These skills came directly from experience with creating models for my studio projects.

What has been your favorite project you have participated in on coop?
My favorite project at TripAdvisor was being able to design the entirety of a new office space, from the very start to very end of the project. I was able to really work on two of these- an office in Lisbon, and an office in Reykjavik. I was involved with picking out which office was best, doing test fits, and ultimately, picking out furniture, finishes, and graphics. Seeing the offices open and the reactions from the teams that moved in was fulfilling and inspiring.

At Handel, my favorite project I worked on was a due diligence study for a site outside Seattle. I was working very closely with two co-workers to create a package on a tight timeline, so I got to be very involved in the project. Though it included many late nights, I learned a lot very quickly during this time and was very involved with the project.

How did your coop experience influence when you back to the studio?
My TripAdvisor co-op experience helped me learn a lot about designing spaces that center around people and how they work. I used these ideas in future studio projects and was able to think about designing for the people who use a space.

The semester after working in New York, I returned to Northeastern to be in a housing studio. I had worked on housing during my co-op, including unit layouts. This was a large aspect of my studio and having prior knowledge and real-life experience with this made day-to-day decisions easier, as well as informing my entire housing module.

What were the fun things you were been able to do while working?
The Office Experience team at TripAdvisor is involved with many different parts of the office, and I was able to help out and participate in a wide range of projects, from day-to-day operations to event planning. Some of my favorite events to help out with were TedX Beacon Street talks, Oktoberfest, and the Halloween and Holiday parties. Also, the office was dog friendly, so furry friends were around all day!

Living in NYC feels like you are living in the center of the world. There are incredible people to meet and things to do. One highlight was walking in the Climate Strike in September of 2019. It was powerful to be part of something that can make a difference, and roughly 250,000 showed up to hear Greta Thunberg speak. The strike marched right past our office on Broadway, so we got to see people marching by for hours.

How will your coop experiences influence your future career decisions? What have you learned that will help you find the right path?
My co-op at TripAdvisor showed me exactly what I want my future career to look like- designing small scale spaces with a fun team in an incredible office!

Before my experience at Handel, I knew I probably did not want to work in a “traditional” architecture firm following graduation. I am more interested in interior and experiential design myself, and this co-op secured that for me. I found myself wanting to work on the design of smaller spaces rather than overall plans for buildings. However, I still gained incredible knowledge and new skills that I will take with me for my future career.