My experiences in my Global Service Learning have been interesting to say the least, and the class did not go at all how I expected. Due to the constantly evolving nature of this course, I was able to learn a few key lessons. The first of which is that life is unpredictable and has a direct impact on business. Our work with Caras Con Causa was affected by several variables out of our control that we had to roll with and work around. First, the string of earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico caused the closure of their charter school which first shifted their focus away from the environmental science laboratory and our project. Then, the jarring impact of the coronavirus first prevented us to journeying in country to work firsthand, and then caused a mass shift to online only classes and business. This hindered the work of our group as well as further shifting the focus of Caras away from our project. While problems or changes that arise in the midst of future projects due to external factors might not always be as drastic as these, you can count on the fact the things will arise and your project ay not go completely as planned. From this, I was able to learn that it is necessary to persevere in the face of the challenges and find a new plan to accomplish your goal.
Another lesson I learned through this experience is the importance of communication and support within your group. The coronavirus tested our project in many ways and the only way we were able to get through it and find a new plan was through communication. While it was harder to meet via zoom than in person, with all the changes happening it was more important than ever to make sure everyone was on the same page so that we could move forward with the project. In addition, it was a huge positive contributing factor that everyone in our group as well as the faculty members stayed supportive of us and reassured us that while things would have to change, we could still follow through with our deliverables. Without this strong communication and support, I do not think our project could have been as successful as it was.
Furthermore, this experience allowed me to gain so many important transferrable skills, some of which I touched on in my previous blog post. First, this project forced us to be adaptable. Once everyone in our group made the decision to stick it out and finish the project and our class, our only choice was to adapt and find a new plan. This also taught me to be more flexible. Things will not always go according to plan and you must be able to come up with alternative methods to reach your desired goal. Both adaptability and flexibility will be immensely important in my professional life because I hope to work in supply chain management. The supply chain almost always exists at an international and scale and has countless variables, so there are bound to be changes and problems that pop up. So, having experience being adaptable and flexible while working on projects is essential, because no matter what happens, the job must get done.
Another extremely important skill I developed was dependability. I had to be dependable, not only for my fellow group members, but for our client. We promised to deliver certain deliverables and even though problems arose, we still had a duty to follow through and give our clients the work we said we would. In class, we discussed the value of dependability in the professional world. Meade Johnson talked to us about the importance of building a positive reputation, especially if doing any kind of consulting because oftentimes, you get your business by word of mouth and based on reputation. So, it is necessary to be dependable and not flake on your clients when challenges come up and this experience taught me how to stay dependable even in very stressful and overwhelming situations.
Additionally, I was able to see first-hand throughout this project the importance of building strong relationships with your clients. Building relationships really ties into the idea of reciprocity that we discussed in class; each end of the partnership wants to gain something from the project so they both have to give in order for this to be achieved. Pitt already had a very positive relationship with our client, Caras Con Causa, going into this year’s project and I think that was very helpful to our group. I believe Pitt’s ten year commitment to partnering with Caras Con Causa has allowed them to really trust us and our institution because they know we are not going to be selfish by coming in taking what we want out of the partnership and then leave them on their own to figure the rest out. Having that trusting relationship has allowed Caras to be more open with our group about their experiences, what they need, and how we can help. During all of our video calls with the staff at Caras, you could tell how happy they were to be working with us and how eager they were to give us information about the lab and about Caras as a whole. The positive relationship Pitt has cultivated with Caras allowed them to be more open with us and trust us enough to work on important tasks that will be beneficial to them. This openness and trust allowed us to gain the important information we need to tackle our deliverables, and it gave us the freedom to be creative with our deliverables so that we felt like we were providing them with something helpful and different from what they would accomplish on their own.
Moreover, I think that this year we dramatically strengthened our relationship with Caras in a show of dedication and loyalty. In face of the new restrictions presented by the coronavirus, many groups would have said “enough is enough”, “this is too hard now”, or “what’s the point if we don’t get to go in country” and simply walked away. Pitt, however proved to each of its partners that we do not give up in the face of adversity. When the going gets tough, Pitt students get going and when we promise to deliver on something, we follow through. We held up on our end of the bargain and stayed committed to that idea of reciprocity. This show of good faith proved to Caras, once again that we are trustworthy and dependable so that going forward they know they can be open with us and rely on the fact that we are good to our word.
While this is not the experience I thought I was signing up for, it will be extremely valuable to talk about in an interview nonetheless. In a professionally interview, I would explain that while working towards preparing our deliverables including a survey, preliminary marketing initiative, and pricing report for our client Caras Con Causa, we were faced with a huge obstacle: the coronavirus preventing our in-country work and halting all in person team meetings. When faced with these challenges, instead of giving up, we stayed flexible and immediately began to pivot the direction of our project by quickly adapting to the new circumstances and defined a new plan to complete our project work and fulfill our end of the deal. By focusing on the transferrable skills I gained and underlining my dedication and loyalty in the face of adversity, I will be able to show the interviewer that I can effectively deal with obstacles that arise and they can trust I will be a dependable employee.
After completing the wild ride that was my Global Service Learning experience, I have a few important pieces of advise to offer next year’s group. First you must work together. This seems obvious but I cannot stress enough how important group dynamic is. It is not enough to have occasional check ins and then work on completely separate tasks. You must develop a positive relationship with your group members to maintain a productive and collaborative environment. Our group did a fantastic job of coming together and being comfortable sharing ideas with one another. We completed each aspect of our project together. Starting with the scope of work all the way through our last deliverable, we would hop on a shared document and all edit it at the same time while having an open conversation about what we were doing. This was important because it ensured we were all on the same page with what we were working on and how we were going to deliver it so that we gave our client our best work. Even later down the road, when we split into two groups so that we work on different deliverables, we still worked together just within smaller groups and then we would come back to the larger group to share our results. This culture that we created within our group meant that nobody ever felt alone or overwhelmed by working on a large task independently and I believe it significantly improved our quality of work.
Second, I strongly recommend that you use all of your faculty resources! GSL is set up to provide you with every resource you could possibly need. Each faculty member has so much experience and expertise in different areas that can help with every aspect of the project. It may seem like creating more work but reaching out to the faculty member and setting up meetings outside of class helps so much and really improves the quality of your final project.
Finally, my last recommendation is to be prepared going into the project by doing research beforehand and by reviewing the documents we have provided in the SharePoint which you can then use as a resource throughout the project. The more you know going in, the faster you can get started on meaningful work, so I really emphasize making an effort to do all background research on the project as soon as possible. I feel like our group was a little bit slow to start when we were still getting acquainted with all the information, so I really recommend trying to get as much of that out of the way as possible beforehand. All of the service learning projects are really amazing causes and the faster you can get started, the higher quality of work you can achieve. Procrastinating will simply not work in these projects because there are so many moving parts, so it is important to have a quick start and then stick to the timeline you outline in the Scope of Work.
Even though this class didn’t go how I was expecting, I am sad that it is over. Throughout the process, I became so close with all of my group members and I am grateful for everything that I have learned and gained from this experience. There were some speed bumps along the way, but when it really came down to it, our group pulled together and came through on our deliverables so that we could deliver a final project to Caras that I am really proud of.