Kitty COOK ’89, Vice President of Strategic Insight

As Vice President of Strategic Insight at a full-service market research firm, Kitty COOK ’89 designs, manages, and executes custom research projects for a variety of clients and major brands. From working on Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign to teaming up with the Harlem Globetrotters, Kitty continuously works to streamline and improve processes and productivity for her clients. Celebrating her 30th reunion this year, Kitty shares more about her post-graduation path, her career, and her time at Ellis.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12 
Vice President of Strategic Insight at Issues & Answers Network, Inc.
B.A. Anthropology, Bucknell University
Location:Norfolk, VA

How did you become involved in your line of work? 
I always had a great love of mathematics, but was also very interested in social sciences. My degree in anthropology opened a whole new world to me. I wanted to try to find a way to mold both of my strengths and interests, so I met with a career counselor and she suggested that I look into market research. I sent out resumes to every market research company in Pittsburgh, landed my first job for Clark & Associates in East Liberty, and that was the beginning of my 25+ year career. 

How has your career changed over time? 
My industry has changed drastically since I first began. Technology has both helped and hindered the market research industry. I like the pure scientific approach to data collection that one could do prior to cell phones and email and spam blockers, etc. Now, I’ve had to grow and accept non-scientific approaches to data collection and analysis.  

How do you influence and create positive change in the workplace?
As a manager, leader, and a mom, I like to take an active role in my team’s professional growth.  You are not going to work just one job or at just one place in your career. I always want my team to stay forever, but I also want to make sure they are learning every day and developing skills that will take them even further in their next job. I think it's important to invest in each team member personally and be there to support their professional development.

What is a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to work on two presidential campaigns and with over 100 candidates for public office from mayors to governors. Working on the 2008 Obama campaign was one of the most challenging and fascinating experiences of my career. The primary pollster split the country into ten parts and each consultant had five states. The team I was working on had three states that were clearly not in contention and two that were highly unknown. We polled in those two states every week for 10 weeks straight. It was late nights and long hours. Making sure the methodology was followed precisely and every question asked according to all criteria and laws. When election night rolled around, I was waiting for all the results and watching each state come in and the tide turning from Obama winning to McCain winning. But I knew my results were accurate, and I knew that when they announced the states I had become so intimately involved with that Obama was going to win. As a consultant, I don’t take sides. I don’t discuss my own politics. But it is very exciting when you work on a campaign and your data matches the live results.

What do you love most about your job?
Variety. I never know what my next project is going to be. I have worked on projects from product labeling to television news viewership studies. My clients have included major brands like GM, the Harlem Globetrotters, Merck, Allstate Insurance, and the World Wildlife Fund. I’ve had the opportunity to work with small towns on community development to major women’s rights issues in foreign countries.

What lessons has your work life taught you?
Your work or career must be something that you enjoy. You spend more hours working than you do with your family. What you do for work has to feed you and build you up. If you are not getting fulfillment from your work life, it is time to move on.

When do you feel empowered and how do you empower other women in your life?
I feel empowered when I use my voice for good. Words are powerful. Everything you say can impact someone else. Make sure that impact is positive. I think it's important to be a role model to other women. It's also important to always learn from other women. I learn from my daughter and her friends all of the time. The younger generations have a much more empowered worldview than my generation. It's vital to continue building in that direction and make sure no one in my generation slows down the progress.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Do what feels best to you. Don’t let anyone tell you what is right or wrong. Only you know your true potential and what gives your pure happiness. Follow your dreams and no one else’s dream for you.  

What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’ all-girls environment?
I learned a lot about the person, co-worker, and parent that I wanted to be from my experience at Ellis. How to be strong and fierce and respected. How to make sure my voice is heard in a positive manner.

We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
You can wear your style. Your mannerisms can show your attitude. But, your voice is your power. Words show your intellect, your sense of humor, your heart and compassion. Every time you speak it should be thoughtful. Your circle of friends and family and peers are listening to you. Make sure you make it count.

Equally important is listening skills.  When someone is talking, you should be listening. Do not spend your ‘listening’ time coming up with what you are going to say in response. You can only learn by active listening. 

How do you spend your free time?
Free time or unscheduled time is important. I spend my free time by the water. I am so lucky to live by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. I enjoy the peace of the beach. Fishing, swimming, walking along the shore. You need to have time for personal reflection and the water is such a powerful source of energy and strength.