Adiós GSL Puerto Rico!

My global service-learning experience to declare the least has been nothing short of spontaneous, a truly whirlwind experience. Never would I ever have anticipated having completed our project with Caras in a remote location under complete lockdown amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. That said, my time in Global Service Learning left me with valuable key experiences deemed to create a profound impact as I progress into the next stage of the business realm.

First and foremost, I learned how to effectively pivot in hindsight to deliver the objectives to the greatest extent in unprecedented situations. COVID-19 brought the notion always to expect the unexpected since not every problem or dilemma will be forecasted. However, the rate at which you “pivot” and remain adaptability of the situation determines the degree of success achieved. After all, in the professional realm and your personal life, certain instances will always justify as occurring unprecedentedly: an example that holds to the impact of COVID-19 our student consultant team’s project with Caras. Secondly, I reflected upon the significance of dependability. Although in-person travel to Caras remained out of the question, our student consultant team still crafted a contract with Caras’ as defined in our scope of work. Therefore, our team had to honor our commitment to Caras and still deliver a superior product to the greatest extent possible with modified adaptations. By doing so, our team encompassed the ability to strengthen our relationship with Michael, Belen, Mariela, and the rest of the Caras staff through reciprocity. Lastly, the cancellation of the Global Service Experience taught me to convey gratitude more. While our student consultant team and I showed typical signs of disappointment, we encountered the jarring reality that the implications of COVID-19 impacted other communities such as Caras’ to a much severe extent. The COVID-19 pandemic provided the harsh reality of the privileges that I withhold as an American citizen coming off of a well-off background. At the same time, Caras’ had to tend to Charter school closures and community issues due to dilemmas caused through the pandemic. Through acknowledging the wealth of privilege that our team and I encompassed, we successfully were able to separate “our first world emotion-related problems” from “actual issues,” our team modified our deliverables through perseverance in accordance to the new information discussed through Caras: an action that I argue left both parties with a sign of mutual accomplishment.

The ability to comprehend how to effectively pivot an unanticipated situation, the valuable notion of dependability, and acknowledgment of privilege perceived as a critical player to developing justifiably one of the most crucial transferable skills: teamwork and communication. The foundation of the Global Service Learning Course relies on teamwork amongst members of a group. Our project with Caras for the year 2020 (creating a marketing initiative to attract undergraduate environmental students and applicable study abroad groups to “Labcom”) withheld a multitude of intricate elements and deliverables. Hence, teamwork and ongoing communication justified as the only successful mechanism to complete the project for Caras effectively.

However, the unforeseen arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team had to amplify our degree of communication due to virtual meetings for the rest of the entirety of the Spring 2020 semester. Given how our working environment drastically altered in a matter of a few weeks, I argue that our team adapted quickly through checking in with each other to make sure everyone remained unconfused regarding any pertinent new developments of the project. In the future, I aspire to have a career that combines my passions of information technology and finance in the healthcare industry setting. Professions in the healthcare environment, even from a business perspective, tend to rely on teamwork to solve complex and diverse problems. My future co-workers and I will not always have the answers to every dilemma that arises and oftentimes need to collaborate as a part of a team in order to successfully manage uncertainty. In other words, the one aspect that I garnered from the Global Study Abroad experience pertaining to the transferable skill of teamwork justifies maintaining a sense of optimism because positive outcomes occur as the result of a complex, rapidly evolving business dilemma.

The most important skill I acquired from the Global Service justifies arguably as the importance of strengthening relationships on conducting work towards deliverables. As I indicated through my prior two blog posts, fostering relationships merges with the notion of reciprocity(both parties consisting of the giver and the receiver(Client) desire to gain positive benefits from the collaborative partnership to effectively achieve a goal). From the initiation of 2018, The University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration molded a partnership with Caras con Causa forged through mutual reciprocity and trust as a part of the ten-year plan. The enacted ten-year plan with Caras permitted Caras to instill a baseline level of confidence in our student consultant that prompted upper-level management(Michael, Belen, and Mariela) to communicate transparently regarding their aspirations and the role of our student consultant team in achieving their mission.

In the midst of this new period of uncertainty, one aspect that touched the bottom of my heart (through a Zoom recording) regarded the gratitude the Caras expressed towards the continuation of our team committing to our project. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, our team vowed to commit working on our project with Caras despite being given the option to withdraw free of penalty. Our team’s unwavering decision to follow through with our loyalty with our deliverables and Caras’ support only pushed me to spend as much energy as possible to finish the project (“Top 10 Characteristics of Effective Project Team-Goss and McDonough). Moreover, our commitment to the outcome of the project and impact of Caras’ mission project only emphasizes the vast differences between community service and service-learning: the ability to utilize business acumen learned from the classroom and create a long-lasting tangible impact(Comparing the effects of Community Service and Service Learning). In contrast to traditional avenues of volunteerism, individuals do not withhold the power to create a real tangible impact on the world due to time constraints. In hindsight, furthering Caras’ mission statement in a tangible manner still arguably resulted in a positive impact in terms of financial sustainability and community development despite the modification of our deliverables due to the unprecedented nature of COVID-19. Furthermore, our student consultant team did not fail to back out of our “indirect” contract due to adversity. It reciprocated mutual reciprocity to build further and sustain our relationship with Caras.

While the Spring 2020 semester project with Caras did not “pan out” in the exact anticipated manner given the constraints of COVID-19: I justify that our team’s unique environment in the face of adversity presents a memorable and distinct story to relay to recruiters. My pitch to a potential employer regarding my experience with GSL Puerto resembles as: “In the Spring 2020 semester of my sophomore year, I collaborated as a part of a student consultant team with Caras con Causa through the Global Service Learning Program. Caras con Causa is a Puerto Rican non-profit organization that desires to foster community development and financial sustainability in their local Catano community. More specifically, Our student consultant team’s project with Caras as a part of year two of the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration Ten Year Plan consisted of marketing an environmental field station (“Labcom: to undergraduate environmental science professors and environmental scientists in order foster potential study abroad programming. While collaborating to accomplish our deliverables (preliminary marketing initiative, competitive pricing analysis, and revamping the prior groups administered survey), an unforeseen circumstance arose that essentially forever altered how our team completed our deliverables: the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the adversity that arose, our student consultant team never once pondered to drop the project with our client due to our contract. Instead, we pivoted through the modification of our deliverables based on the new normal of the COVID-19 era. Still, we delivered a quality product to our client through creating a preliminary marketing outline, pricing report, and a market research analysis. Despite the ambiguous nature of virtual programming with Caras, our team still fostered mutual reciprocity, flexibility, and adaptability with our client, which effectively exhibits the notion that I have the ability to handle ambiguous problems in the face of adversity.”

After the culmination of an eventful and unorthodox semester, here are three of the most critical pieces of recommendations that I would lend to future groups. 

  1. Contextualize, Contextualize, Contextualize!

Bryan and Hillary reiterated the significance of contextualizing our client in our minds throughout the semester. Moreover, I recommend to invest time and recap on not just the previous years’ reflections, but through all reviews commencing with the initial GSL Puerto Rico Final Report. Comprehending the environment in which your client works in such as community issues, economics, social norms, and politics acts as the keyholder to the continuation of trust and reciprocity between your student consultant team and your client (Caras). As a result, the more you familiarize yourself with your client’s contextual environment, the degree of transparency between your client and your team increases due to mutual reciprocity precipitating to a higher quality of the finished product. 

2. Take Full Advantage of all Available Resources

Secondly, your consulting project with your client resembles what your team makes of it. The Global Service Learning professors(Bryan, Hillary, Arielle, and Meade) encompass a plethora of knowledge and are always willing to lend a hand to aid in the completion of deliverables. That being said, you will have to seek out their help, so act proactively and start ahead of schedule! In the instance where your team has concerns regarding a specific deliverable, ask questions, clarify information, and even establish a strong relationship with your local Amizade advocate and a member of the prior years’ group to garner baseline information. Through acting proactively and effectively engaging with all of the faculty at your side, your team will have the highest degree of presenting a successful product to your client. Remember, the GSL staff, Amizade representative, and your client yearns to see your team succeed, but you must utilize the resources around you!

3. Expect the Unprecedented and Keep Your Privilege in Check! 

No-one anticipated the severity of COVID-19 to enter into a pandemic state of matter where the new standard consists up of virtual classes and work from home internships. While I yearn for another pandemic to not arise, I recommend future teams to effectively learn how to pivot their deliverables in the event of a significant life-altering instance. Moreover, although the mere idea of study abroad epitomized a crucial motivator in participating in the consulting project, recognize that your client (Caras) is dealing with implications that you, as an American citizen, do not have to encounter in the same capacity due to your privileged background. Realize that at the end of the day, your student consultant team role justifies as delivering a product to the best degree due to the contract your team indirectly signed with your client through the scope of work. Thus, through envisioning the “broader picture” from your client’s perspective, you will encompass the ability to make the most profound impact through mutual reciprocity to your client’s mission statement by listening to their recommendations and the issues pertinent to them. In hindsight, your student consultant team indirectly foster the University of Pittsburgh’s Ten Year Commitment with your client. 

GSL Puerto, Thank you for the memories that you have forever ingrained into my head! Although I did not foreshadow the surprising twist of the semester in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am always indebted to the life-long lessons, business acumen acquired, and the once in a lifetime opportunity to mutually consult with an international client! Although the semester got cut short, I want to thank Bryan, Meade, Kyle, Hillary, Arielle, Caras con Causa, Amizade, and the entirety of my GSL Puerto Rico Team for their adaptability and flexibility this semester. Without their collaboration and assistance, our final project would not have a successful nor precipitated such an emotionally gratifying experience! Adiós, GSL!!