Looking back on great semester!

It’s easy to look back on this semester and be disappointed- and rightfully so. We lost half a semester of spending time with our peers on campus, we had to adjust to an online learning environment when we were expecting to learn in-person, and we really can’t even go outside anymore. However, in these uncertain times I try to be grateful for what I do have rather than focus on what I don’t. Throughout this experience, I’ve learned that if I have a pessimistic outlook on everything, then even the positives won’t shine through. Moreover, doing a consulting project without being able to meet with my group or clients in person has introduced me to a plethora of transferrable skills and has helped sharpen the ones I already had.

            The first transferrable skill I want to touch upon is adaptability. This was important before we were online and is now more important than ever. When working with a client you always have to be adaptable. As a consultant, it’s your job to be on the same page as the client so you can provide the best results possible. Throughout our project we had a few instances where we would start working on some of our deliverables only to learn that CEOLI wanted us to take them in a different direction. Of course, we complied, but reworking something we already started on is easier said than done. As a group, we learned to utilize the work we previously had done to use a baseline for the new direction we were taking. But, when we shifted to an online learning environment, being adaptable became extremely necessary and challenging. Immediately we had to re-work our entire scope of work to account for the fact that we would not be actually traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia anymore. While I could never anticipate something like COVID-19 happening again, it’s important to be prepared for the worst. In my future professional life when I have to adapt to a new situation or take a new direction, I can always think to myself, “At least I’m not quarantined at my house and the whole world is on lockdown.” But in all seriousness, I feel like I have the ability to adapt to any situation thrown at me in the future.

            Another transferrable skill I want to talk about is resiliency. It would have been so easy to just stop the project or send our clients what we had and said, “good luck.” I am so proud of my group and all the other groups because we didn’t do this. We were resilient in a situation where it is was easy to just give up. Unlike adaptability, resiliency wasn’t exactly something I was expecting to take out of this course, or even my undergraduate experience at Pitt in general. There’s also no doubt in my mind that the reason we stuck with these projects was for our clients. Throughout the first half of the semester we had multiple calls and in-person meetings with our clients and we could tell how much they valued our work. Also, by talking to students who took this course previously, I learned how excited the kids at CEOLI were to see us every year and how the workers love when we visit. For these reasons we couldn’t give up, and for me, I was even more motivated to give them an excellent final report in which it was obvious that we made the most out of a tough and uncertain situation. Furthermore, just being able to look back on how much I was able to be resilient in this situation will give me a huge motivation boost in the future. I now know I can deal with strenuous and constantly changing circumstances and while I hope something like COVID-19 never happens again, I’m excited for the challenges I will face in the future because I know I’ll be able to be adaptable and push through them.

            Relationships are essential in almost every scenario imaginable and especially important when doing a consulting project and working with clients. As a group, we tried our best to create and strengthen our own personal relationships with CEOLI and Amizade, but the existing relationships that PittBusiness and the previous groups had built up were very valuable to us. PittBusiness has sent multiple groups to Cochabamba to work with CEOLI in the past and they have all done a fantastic job. When we came into this course, there was already a high expectation set for us and I’m very grateful for it. If we had been working with CEOLI for the first time and didn’t get a lot of work done for them, it wouldn’t seem like we did a bad job in comparison because there wouldn’t have been another Pitt group to compare us to. Or on the other hand, if the previous Pitt groups did not have a strong relationship with CEOLI due to poor work in the past, CEOLI would be expecting a lot less from us. Lower expectations may lead to easier work, but they do not lead to situations where we can grow personally or help our clients as best as possible. Because of the strong relationships built up before I really felt like there was a clear expectation for what we had to do and the professionalism we had to conduct our work with. Despite the unfortunate scenario we encountered this semester, I think continuing the project this year greatly strengthened our relationship with CEOLI. We worked hard and were able to provide a final report we are all proud of, but one of the main reasons we strengthened this relationship was because we continued the project. Every single group that was supposed to go to Cochabamba this year cancelled and as far as we know did not provide any useful work for CEOLI. Despite the fact that we couldn’t travel to Cochabamba and visit CEOLI in person, we tried as hard as we could to make sure that what we accomplished was up to par with the standards expected from the Pitt Business Student Consultants. If it wasn’t apparent before, CEOLI now knows that we will stick with them for the entirety or our 10-year plan no matter what the situation is, and I think that goes a long way in strengthening a relationship.

            When applying to this course, one of the main things I wanted to take from it was a fantastic consulting experience which would help me in the future. One way this course can help in the future is through interviews. I would explain this project by saying that this was a service-learning project in which we focused on working with CEOLI, a non-profit based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I would go on to explain how PittBusiness has a 10-year plan with CEOLI and that we had high expectations set for us. I would then talk about how because of COVID-19 we had to cancel the in-country part of the project and had to change our scope of work and deliverables. We also had to continue having client meetings over Zoom and eventually gave our final presentation online. I would most likely be using this answer for a question which asks how I was adaptable or something similar, so I would then echo what I wrote previously in this blog where I mention that I had to be extremely adaptable in a situation I had never been in before and was still able to deliver what was promised to the client. I could also talk about this experience when referring to a time I worked on a team by talking about how we had to shift from in-person meetings to online meetings in order to continue our consulting project. I’m sure there are hundreds of other questions this experience could be applied to I’m excited to talk about it in future interviews because I’m very proud of what myself and my group was able to accomplish over this semester and it’s definitely something I would want a possible future employer to know.

            I’m very excited for what the future PittBusiness groups will do and I’m still holding out hope that maybe I’ll be able to travel to Cochabamba in coming years, but I have some advice and tips that I would like future groups to know. My first is to be proactive. Something we planned on doing this semester was getting CEOLI cards in on-campus retailers. These were Maggie & Stella’s and the Cathedral of Learning Gift Center. Obviously, this was rendered basically impossible due to COVID-19, but it would have been no easy feat even if we were still at Pitt. I think there is a strong possibility that next year’s group can get CEOLI cards in one, or even both of those retailers and I would advise that they get started on correspondence with these retailers as soon as possible. My second piece of advice would be to split the group up. Our two sections were card sales and the juice stand. This doesn’t mean never working with the other group, but I believe splitting up our group made our work much stronger and more efficient. Finally, I would tell future groups to be grateful for the opportunity they have. There are not many other universities in which you could get an experience quite like this. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to work with clients that PittBusiness has already built up relationships with and the ability to travel to Cochabamba will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I mentioned before, it’s very easy to look back at this experience and be disappointed, but I most definitely won’t. I am going to strive to look for similar opportunities in the future because I have my whole life ahead of me and I want to make the most out of it.