Global Service Learing in my Living Room: What I Learned

If you told me in January that I’d be writing this blog in my hometown locked in my house during a global pandemic, not having had travelled to Puerto Rico, I would have laughed in your face. I did not expect any of this to turn out the way it did; how could anyone? We seem to have encountered the craziest situation ever and nothing will be the same after this. However, despite all the changes, not being at school, having all in-person classes cancelled, and no one knowing when this is all going to end, my group and I were able to push through the rest of the semester and complete our modified deliverables. While they were not as in depth as we had all anticipated, I’m still proud of what we accomplished. I learned that when things get hard, you don’t just give up without trying some alternative. We looked at some aspects of our deliverables and we knew we could not complete it fully if we weren’t going in country or meeting consistently with our clients. So, instead of just getting rid of all our deliverables and saying, “nothing can be done,” we modified our deliverables and came up with the next plan. After finishing our deliverables and presenting our final project, I am happy with what we accomplished. Sure, it wasn’t all we had hoped for, but we got something done which still gave me that feeling of accomplishment. We also are not just leaving Caras, our client, in the dust because we are not the only people experiencing hardship.

I learned I that I must take others into consideration of my actions. I am not a business student, so while the course material was interesting and new to me, I really looked forward to the in-country part to get my full benefit from this class as an Environmental Science student. So, the rest of the semester felt like I was taking a class that didn’t really suit me, so, at face value, dropping the class seemed like a reasonable choice. However, I thought about the client and how they were relying on my group to complete our deliverables and help them with their lab. I also thought about my group and how we had all worked well together and bailing on them would cause a burden as they would lose the environmental perspective on things and an extra person to help with the work. I really didn’t want to let anyone down in this so, I stuck with it and I don’t regret a second of it. I gained a lot of skills and lessons from this experience I would not have gotten had I dropped the class.

One of the skills I’ve developed having been in this class is adaptability. I definitely had developed adaptation from when we had to change the scope and dealing with strained communication with my group and client. However, especially as an environmental science student in a class full of business students, I’ve been developing my adaptation skills from day 1. The first day of class, I walked into Sennott Square for the second time in my life, looking for the classroom to find that I recognized a singular person, Dr Kyle, the environmental science advisor. The students went around and said their majors with letters and lingo like “CPLE” and “plus-3.” Then, we talked about a “scope of work” and other consulting terms and everything is going in one ear and out the other: I was so lost. So, I went up to Bryan, the instructor and said “I don’t think I followed much from this class, should I read up on something or buy a book on consulting?” and he just laughed and told me “don’t worry, no one else knows what’s going on either.” Then, I felt a little more at peace knowing I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know consulting and all the fancy business terms. Now, I would say I have grip on what’s happening, and I learned about a whole new world and group of people I’d never meet had I stayed in only my science classes.

Along with that, l developed my problem-solving skills. I had to work to figure out how to change our deliverables and think practically through the issues. What would we be able to do? What is impractical? What is the best we can make out of this situation? These are the things I had to think through while going through this project. Problem solving isn’t just seeing a problem at face value and giving a static solution. It’s working dynamically through the project and when new problems arise, you can work through them to come up with the best result possible. Coming up with a whole new scope of work was overwhelming at first. We already had been sent home so we could not discuss the new plan in person with our groups. So, it was hard. However, my group and I were invested in the project enough to make a phone call during the beginning of the chaos and figure out our new plan. Time does not wait for anyone, so we might as well work through the issues when they arise. We were able to work together to come up with attainable goals considering the new circumstances. Being able to pivot that fast will be beneficial to my life in my future career or even in other group projects as I study at Pitt.

I think that Pitt´s existing relationship with the client helped us because Bryan and the CEO of the non-profit we worked with, Michael, worked well together and it helped us get into contact with them even while staying home. We had one call with them since being home which helped us figure out what to work on for the client. They gave us an update on what they have been up to and what they will be able to do while they are also at home. We were able to change our deliverables and check in with them and ask for their opinions. I think this helped improved our reliability as they were able to have a say in what we changed in the scope.

This is not the experience I thought I would have in this class, but it was still a valuable one. I will be able to tell future employers that I know how to push through when times get tough. Loyalty is an important aspect of someone’s character because that’s how someone knows that they can rely on you. Despite not going on the immersive part of the class, I wanted to keep with the project in order to not let down my clients and deliver what I could to them. Also, I have gotten a peek into the business world and I can take that knowledge with me in the future with my intended career in the EPA. Consulting can apply to any field. In the future, I want to help make the US sustainable, where we are limiting our amount of GHG emissions and not using up all our resources while still relatively maintaining our lifestyle in order for future generations to do the same. With this experience having to work through challenging issues where you feel like you just want to quit, I knew to just keep pushing. In my future career, I 100% am going to have times where companies may not want to follow the guidelines we set or maybe people telling us that what we’re doing is pointless because “climate change doesn’t exist.” However, I will know that the end-result will be worthwhile, and I can push through the struggle.  

For the students going into GSL in the future, I would say build a trusting relationship with your team is important. I believe my team was able to work well together because we all trusted each other to get our tasks done and attend group meetings. So, when circumstances change and times get hard, you have your team that has your back if someday you cannot complete a task. Another thing I would recommend for future students is to ask questions and talk to the instructors. They are on your side and will help you for concerns about anything. As I talked about earlier, I was worried the first few days in class because I didn’t know any business concepts at all and talking to Bryan gave me more confidence to keep going with the class. It’s worth the time to get to know the instructors and they’re great people!

Lastly, I would say do not take anything you’re doing for granted. The trip to Puerto Rico is a privilege; the time you have in the classroom speaking with your instructors and groups members is a privilege; being able to stick to a schedule and not have to change any plans is a privilege. Just soak it all in when you get the chance to do these things because it is possible you can have the rug swept under you and you will no longer have those things. Be appreciative of what you experience on this trip. Not to get deep on you but do it for the people that wished they could have gone on the trip and think of us when you get to enjoy your trip. We’ll do it through you!

Despite not having been able to visit Puerto Rico, I am thankful for this opportunity in the college of business. It has provided me with unique opportunity to meet new people and see a whole world I never thought I’d see. So, that’s all for now. Signing off!