Overall, I would say my experience in Service-Learning Organizations, though not what I initially anticipated, was a positive one. What I foresaw to be my first taste of a study abroad experience, soon turned into a test of will, perseverance, and dedication. With the final presentation and report completed, I can begin to reflect on the valuable lessons I have learned throughout this experience. First and foremost, I learned not everything is within my control, and things do not always go according to plan. So often I find myself forecasting my life, whether it is internships I wish to get, grades I wish to obtain, or experiences I wish to have. This experience has hammered into me that sometimes, no matter how much planning or preparation you do, some things are just out of your control. This has taught me the importance of flexibility and adaptability not only in my professional life, but also in my personal life. Another key lesson I can takeaway from this is the importance of dependability. Even after our trip was canceled and the class was completely reshaped, Michael and Caras con Causa were still depending on us to follow through with as much of our deliverables as possible, and I believe our group’s ability to follow through did much to further strengthen the relationship between the university and Caras as a whole. Finally, this experience taught me that there are many circumstances out in the world that are just bigger than me and sometimes cooler, more rationale heads, prevail. Upon hearing of the cancellation of my trip to Puerto Rico, I took a very small-minded viewpoint, only choosing to look at it from the perspective of a kid who wanted to go on his study abroad trip. Luckily for me, there were folks who understood the larger pieces at play and were able to separate their emotions to come to a more informed, and ultimately the right decision of canceling all study abroad trips.
These three key lessons ultimately played a major role in the development of transferable skills, despite not being able to go to Puerto Rico. While I believe I developed several transferable skills over the period of this course, including adaptability and teamwork, I feel that dependability was the one that was most emphasized for me personally. Upon hearing that the travel portion of the class would no longer be possible, every student was offered the opportunity to drop the class, no strings attached, and not one of them did. I think that really speaks to the passion of the class as a whole for the work we are doing, and shows the wider understanding of how much the various clients depend on us. This lesson really hit home during our video call with Michael, the CEO of Caras and his various subordinates, as he continually thanked us for sticking with the project even when he knew we did not have to. In the modern-day workforce, dependability is more important than ever. Too often, I hear recruiters mention people not answering preestablished phone calls, or ghosting interviews. By demonstrating your dependability right from the start, you immediately put yourself at a distinct advantage in a recruiter and hiring manager’s eyes.
I truly believe that our teams’ dedication and level of dependability we showed went a long way to further strengthen the relationship between Caras and the University of Pittsburgh. This relationship once again stems back to the guiding principle of reciprocity, defined as the “mutuality of respect, collaboration, and exchange between the ‘provider’ and the ‘recipient’ in the service-learning relationship” (Henry and Breyfogle, 2006). During our call with Michael, he expressed reservations about partnering with specific universities and professors due to their tendency to attempt to take projects over. That being said, he noted that Pitt was in fact the exact opposite, speaking to the level of respect its staff and students continually showed to Caras con Causa. This stems back to a previous concept I talked about in my 2nd blog post, being racial understanding activism. This concept that we examined in class is when, you engage and listen to the community over a period of time to uncover what they need, allowing the client/inhabitants to decide what is best for the community. Although we were somewhat limited in the interaction, due to our lack of time in country, I still believe we nonetheless continued to foster racial understanding activism as we actively engaged in a dialogue about what Caras needed, and what was best for their community. Our team’s actions as a whole helped to further the reciprocal relationship with Caras, which is ultimately what made accomplishing our deliverables possible. Because of this, we provided our client with meaningful contribution to their objectives, while they provided me with my greatest example of the utilization of adaptability to overcome the trials and tribulations of the Coronavirus this semester.
After stepping back and viewing this service-learning course as a whole, I believe it has the opportunity to be posed as a great story in a professional setting such as an interview, networking event, or simply a conversation with another student. As the course stands, not taking the Coronavirus into account, it is an opportunity to engross yourself in a semester-long project by consulting with an international nonprofit organization. As a student, if you are looking to try your hand at consulting, gain experience in a multifaceted business capacity, or simply have a positive impact on a community or group that has less than you, I would highly recommend this course. It is worth noting that I obtained all of this without the international component, so as a student who has the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico and engross yourself in the in-country experience, I can only imagine the satisfaction and pride the complete experience instills. Switching gears, when discussing my experience with a potential employer, I would stress the business aspects of the experience. To begin, I would highlight what we accomplished, being the pricing report, marketing outline, survey, and contact list, and go on to detail how all of those worked towards the mission and goals of our client. After establishing everything we accomplished, I would then go on to explain the situation that the Coronavirus posed, how the trip component was canceled, and then detail my subsequent response to the situation. I think this would be a prime opportunity to highlight the key lessons and transferable skills I mentioned earlier in this blog post, and then how I plan to utilize these in the workforce. I think in this way, I most effectively use this story to have a positive impact on an interviewer, express how I can create and add value to their company, and overcome unforeseen obstacles in order to find a way to deliver on clients goals.
As I prepare to make my final blog post and move on from my experience in service-learning, I think there are some important things that should be passed on for next year. The first thing I would try to impart on next year’s participants is the need for flexibility. Looking back on the experience in its entirety, there is no way to underscore its importance. When dealing with clients that do not reside in the continental U.S., circumstances arise that cause meetings to be postponed or rescheduled, communication channels to be disrupted, and more. The absolute necessity is to be flexible, and ready to adapt to whatever situation is posed. The next most important piece of advice I would pass on to next year’s students would be to utilize all the resources at your disposal. Specifically, I mean the service learning staff and previous students that serve as mentors. The staff, such as Bryan and Meade have a surplus of knowledge that will serve you very well in the quest to complete your deliverables. Ask questions, establish meetings with the faculty early in the process, and utilize the representatives from last year’s group to the best of your ability, as by doing so, you will in the end deliver the best quality project to your client. The last piece of advice I would like to pass on to next year’s group is to not lose sight of your reasons for taking the class in the first place. While I know for many, one of the primary motivators is the spring break trip involved, it is essential that you keep in mind there are bigger elements at play. You are only one group in a ten-year commitment to Caras con Causa, and that relationship is far bigger than any one person or cohort of students. It took a pandemic to teach me this. To just have the opportunity to study abroad shows we as a whole are far more privileged and have far more opportunity than most ever dream. Look at this experience in the scope of not what it can do for you, but what it can do for others, specifically the community and clients you are serving. By doing so, you will put yourself in the position to make the most out of the experience, while simultaneously imparting the best work possible to your client, which is really what the idea of reciprocity is all about.
Enrolling in Service-Learning was one of the best choices I have made to date in Pitt’s College of Business and Administration. While the experience may not have gone entirely how I expected, I can say with a certainty I made great strides in not only some of my professional goals, but also in some of my personal goals such as cognitive development and intercultural competence that culminates in a sense of global citizenship. As my sophomore draws to a close, I know I am better off professionally and personally due to experience provided to me by the University of Pittsburgh.