This semester has been a whirlwind with many ups and downs. It was filled with challenges that no one could predict and definitely did not go the way I expected it to. However, there were many opportunities to adjust and grow. While the global portion of global service learning never got off the ground (quite literally), it was still a fantastic experience.
Working on a semester long project for a client who will use our findings to improve their business was a very rewarding experience. Coupling that with the current, unprecedented times allowed me to learn many things in a variety of areas. First, I learned what it meant to be dependable, from a business standpoint. Of course, we all learn dependability through relationships and friendships, but this dependability was different. It was the first time that an organization expected me to deliver on my responsibilities and promises. There was no way to bail out of the commitment we made Caras con Causa, so my team and I were forced to adapt and deliver a quality project to them. At times, I was worn out with school and the project, but I reminded myself that someone was relying on my contributions.
This leads into my next key takeaway from this experience: it’s okay to be upset and let down, but stay levelheaded and keep moving forward. When I learned the trip was canceled five-ish days before we were supposed to leave, I was nothing short of angry and upset. I wanted someone to blame and wanted nothing to do with the project. Looking back, I definitely did not handle this situation the best. However, hindsight is 20/20. This situation taught me a very valuable lesson. As I progress through life and enter the workforce, there is bound to be an instance where I am let down and disappointed. I will be able to reference this time and remind myself that somethings are out of my control, and possibly everyone’s control. While it is okay to get upset and disappointed, I can react differently. Instead of shutting down, I now know to adjust and make good use of my newfound time.
Throughout this semester I have been tested in many ways that I was not expecting. I was able to learn a lot about myself from this though. The main transferrable skill I learned during this project was teamwork. This course relies heavily on teamwork, so there was plenty of opportunities for me to develop this skill. Our project had many different aspects of it, from research to pricing reports to a marketing initiative. Therefore, our team had to be in constant communication and work together to accomplish each of these tasks. The need for teamwork increased once the trip was canceled and the semester turned virtual. I think my team handled this excellently and we didn’t miss a beat. I think teamwork is the overarching theme of good communication and dependability. Both of which were tested and developed this semester. As I progress towards a career in finance, I want to pursue consulting or real estate development. Both of these industries rely heavily on teamwork. Consulting is a team-based task in conjunction with a client. Having the prior experience from this class will help me manage my relationships within the team and ensure I communicate effectively. For real estate development, teams will come in to play with project management. These are large undertakings, so the chances of having multiple teams are high. Again, I think this experience and time to develop strong teamwork skills will help me in this.
While I was able to develop my teamwork skills, it was still important to utilize and rely on the relationship that Pitt and Caras con Causa had already established. This positive relationship initially came into play at the beginning of the semester when this year’s group was generating a good rapport with Caras. However, this established relationship was most useful after the trip was canceled and the semester turned virtual. The semester went virtual during the most challenging part of this project: executing the deliverables. As a group, we had to make up the time we lost with Caras since we did not visit them. Even though we could not meet in person, there was trust between us and Caras because of this prior relationship. It allowed us to get information we needed and execute our deliverables.
While all our work was done remotely, the relationship between Caras and Pitt was strengthened this semester. Pitt was the only school to follow through on the projects amidst the pandemic. Our team was able to deliver on our (adjusted) promises and help Caras with Labcom. While we did not complete everything originally planned, we still provided Caras with guidelines for pricing and how to effectively market their field research lab.
Before this semester, this project was going to be a great experience that I could reference in an interview. The global pandemic only added to the quality of my answer. There are several ways that I could pitch this experience in interviews. The first way is positioning it as a success. Despite the pandemic and consulting remotely, my team and I were still able to deliver materials that will help our client develop packages, and hopefully revenues from their research lab. The second way is to position it as a challenge. In this case, I could describe the many challenges this project faced, and use the success mentioned above to show that my team and I persevered through the difficult experience. Lastly, I could use this experience as a great example of when I worked well in a team environment. This project relied heavily on teamwork when creating the deliverables, interacting with the client, and executing the deliverables. The challenges we faced only heightened the level of teamwork that was needed to complete this project successfully.
The first thing I would tell future groups is that they will probably get tired and worn out working on the project. This class and project are a big commitment, but definitely worth it. When this happens just remember why you wanted to participate in this program. Whether it is because you wanted a travel abroad experience, a consulting project, wanted to work with non-profits, or another reason, refer back to this. I know that I was needing a break as spring break approached and the trip was definitely going to breathe a breath of fresh air into the project for me. Of course, that did not happen which was deflating. However, when offered the chance to drop the class with no penalty, there was no way I was going to do that; I wanted to follow through. I chose this program because of the abroad experience, but also because of the uniqueness of the project. I reminded myself of that and it helped me get excited about finishing the project.
The next piece of advice would be to get to know your team. We all know that many group projects don’t require anything more than knowing the first name of your group members and saving their contacts as “Joey Finance Project”. However, this project is much different. You will be seeing these people a lot, like at least two times a week, but probably closer to four or five. You have to figure out what direction you are going to take the project and how to deliver. There is a lot of trial and error and working together to figure out how to execute this long-term project. This is all much easier if you get along with your teammates. Also, you are going to be spending a week with them abroad. I can only speak for myself, but I much rather like the people that I am in a foreign place with than not. This project is a lot of fun, but also taxing, so having strong relationships makes the entire experience better. My team consisted of people I had never talked to, so it was awesome getting to know people that I wouldn’t have got to know otherwise. Take advantage of this! And yes, my teammates’ contacts are actually saved in my phone with first and last names.
The last word of advice I have is prepare yourself for the word “pivot”. I know it sounds pretty harmless, but I promise that it induces small sighs, head scratches, and the occasional, “oh no, not again”. I think this year set a record for the amount of times the word was said. Luckily for future groups, I do not believe that global pandemics are a common occurrence, so you might be graced with hearing it less! However, try to see each “pivot” as a chance to grow. These pivots will teach you flexibility and adaptability. Since time is a constraint in this project, there is no time to mull over a change of course. You have to adjust on the fly and keep moving. Try to keep this in mind because it is much easier said than done.
I would do this project all over again, with or without the travel. Being able to help a client who is creating change in Puerto Rico’s youth is very rewarding. I learned more than I ever thought was possible in this course and will continue talking about it for some time. To the good the times and the bad times, peace out GSL.