Project Specialist Spotlight, Q&A Blog Series, No. 3

23.07.2018 Stacey EVP

At EdVenture Partners, the partnerships we have between our stakeholders — our clients on one side, and the universities, professors and students on the education side — are so pivotal to our organization, we based our name on it. And, if partnerships are at the core of our DNA, then our Project Specialist (PS) role is the glue that holds it all together. Our PS team members are in the trenches with our faculty/student teams from Day One of a program through the final awards. Their duties include driving deadlines, answering questions via daily communication with numerous teams and individuals, and ensuring high-quality final products.

We thought it would be revealing to get a peek into the lives, professional accomplishments and colorful personalities of our valued PS employees with this blog series. Because even though EVP works hard to bring serious learning opportunities to our student teams, we are also a pretty fun bunch!

All About… Project Specialist, Sabrena

Socio-cultural studies, political science and an educational policy background: Sabrena was “born for” this unique EVP role, managing student teams in 8+ countries

EVP Project Specialist, Sabrena

Tell us about your educational and professional background before EVP.
I went to the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign for my undergraduate degree (I-L-L-!). I received a degree in anthropology with a concentration in socio-cultural studies and a minor in political science. During that time I was active in volunteer organizations and various student leadership positions that have helped me build a strong self-efficacy and honed many of my professional skills I use daily. After graduating I interned at the Office of the President of the Chicago Board of Education. It was an exciting opportunity to learn about public policy in the education sector. Then I worked at a health care data analytics company which sparked my interested in marketing and led me to apply to graduate school. I am currently in my third year of my MBA program with a concentration in international business and marketing. When I came across EdVenture Partners it was like I was born for the role. It helped me fulfill my passion for social service and interests in marketing, while utilizing my organizational and problem-solving skills.

Sabrena recently served as project lead for the ADL: Innovate Against Hate program. She is pictured here with fellow EVP staff who participated in the ADL final presentations event in Washington, D.C.

How do you spend your coffee or lunch breaks? How do you spend your free time?
Since I am also in school, I have limited free time. But when I do, I like to give myself a mental break by scrolling through Tumblr (I know, who uses Tumblr anymore?), watching TV shows or relaxing on my back porch. I have also been working with a personal trainer to help keep my body in motion to counter the all-day sitting while at work.

Have you had any winning teams? What were their biggest strengths, or what do you feel put them over the top?
I have had two teams make it to the (Peer to Peer) final competition in Washington, D.C., and a few honorable mentions! By the middle of the term most Project Specialists can tell if a team has “it” — that special thing that puts a team over the edge and into the group that will most likely be considered for the final competition. These teams truly understand the program and why it is so important for them to care and take action to counter hate and extremism in their local area. This intrinsic motivation typically leads to a deeper connection to their topic and audience. And then of course, the stronger teams tend to have higher quality content, multiple creative tactics, and take the time to always take a step back to analyze their work the previous week to make it better for the next.

One of Sabrena’s winning teams was Women Against Violent Extremism (WAVE) from American University of Nigeria. Their initiative took second place in the spring 2017 Peer to Peer: Facebook Global Digital Challenge, and focused on protecting women’s interests in crisis situations.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I see the team that truly “gets” the program, and at the end of the term I can tell how much they care for their campaign. They understand that they are not just college students, but they can be agents of change in their community.

How far away, and in what time zones have you had teams, and how do you stay connected with them? How do you manage calls or Skype sessions in all of the various international time zones?
My first two terms working at EdVenture Partners all but one of my teams were international. As an anthropology student and culture enthusiast, I loved the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world in a personal and professional way. I’ve had the pleasure of working with teams in Nigeria, India, Senegal, Belgium, Indonesia, Australia, and Kazakhstan, just to name a few! However, the time zones did pose a challenge, especially since I am also in graduate school. It took a lot of late nights and early mornings to ensure I was effectively reaching my teams at their convenience. I typically utilized tools such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook messenger to communicate with these teams. I also tried to think outside the box and provide video tutorials for my teams to let them view the necessary information at their own leisure. I would record my screen using QuickTime and send the team a link via Dropbox for easy access.

You and each of your fellow Project Specialists manage up to 20 teams at a time. Do you have any productivity or time management hacks that you’d like to share?
Lists, lists, lists! To-do lists free up the stress of constantly and mentally keeping tabs on the running list of items I need to accomplish by the end of the day, week and month. Every morning I start my day with writing out the things I need to accomplish and transfer any longer-term project items day by day until they are complete. I also keep a running tab of items as I run through my emails and messages that morning. I definitely put my desk agenda to work to help me manage the various deadlines, meetings and timelines for my teams! It is so important to prioritize items by urgency and time needed so you do not fall behind or miss any deadlines.

Originally from the Chicago area, Sabrena never has a shortage of things to do or family and friends to do things with — pictured here at a family quinceañera.

What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you (fun, random trivia, or maybe a guilty pleasure food, TV show or similar)?
I have been in a bowling league for four years. Spoiler alert: I am not good. In fact, I am so bad that the bowling point system works in my favor by providing me with a 100-point handicap score just to start! However, I will say my average has improved over the last few years from 82 to about 95. (For those who are unfamiliar with bowling scores, there’s a total of 300 points possible!)