Project Specialist Spotlight, Q&A Blog Series, No. 6

29.10.2018 Katie 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, Shavanna

Working with youth across the world stretched her “capacity to empathize, remain open-minded and celebrate diversity,” while the virtual environment showed her indelible bonds can be forged just as strongly across technology than in-person.

EVP Project Specialist, Shavanna

Tell us about your educational and professional background before EVP.
I hold a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prior to EVP, I worked in the financial services industry for eight years, establishing expertise with client relationship management and consultative sales for investment products. I also worked as a project practitioner, creating and developing initiatives that promote workplace diversity, process improvement and employee engagement.

Did you participate in an EVP program as a student? And if so, what’s the difference being on this side?
Yes, I did… eons ago it seems! I participated in the Chevrolet Campus Promotions Program, specifically on the Market Research team. The team was responsible for developing and administering on-campus surveys and conducting secondary research on our target market.

Being on this side of the program is quite different. As a student, I was hyper-focused on completing the tasks at hand for my team’s specific marketing campaign. Being able to see multiple, innovative and feasible marketing solutions for the same exact challenge provides a vastly different perspective. You tend to view things more objectively when working on behalf of the client.

Shavanna and the team from Middle East Technical University at the welcome dinner before the final competition.

How do you spend your coffee or lunch breaks? How do you spend your free time?
It really does depend on the day, but it is most often centered around food and fresh air! It’s crucial in any virtual office environment to take breaks to decompress. Shockingly, during really busy times, it’s very easy to work through lunch breaks. I make it a priority to “check-out” for a full hour, to reset mentally. Whether it’s taking a stroll around the neighborhood, running a quick errand or calling a friend or family member to catch-up, I just try to focus on something other than my work tasks for the day during any breaks.

Have you had any winning teams? What were their biggest strengths, or what do you feel put them over the top?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate to work with several teams who have been awarded top placements or were selected as honorable mention teams. With such a large number of teams competing, the reality of the competition is that not every strong team will receive recognition. However, I’ve observed that passion and an undeniable work ethic are two common strengths amongst my past winning teams. Teams who are passionate about making authentic change in their communities or creating tangible solutions for an existing problem, tend to outwork teams who solely view programs as a class assignment. Those teams tend to be more invested, which often times translates to more cohesion when it comes to branding, strategy and their physical deliverables.

It also comes down to strong execution and measurable impact. It’s not enough to say you accomplished something, you have to prove it! There are always qualitative and quantitative ways to demonstrate your success, and winning teams strategically highlight their results.

Shavanna is pictured with first place winners, American University of Nigeria, at the Africa Center for Security and Counter Terrorism (ACSC) Regional Competition in Ghana

What’s been the most rewarding part of your job?
Connecting with brilliant youth from all over the world has been the most rewarding aspect of my job. It’s fascinating to find commonality in thoughts and experiences with people who in some cases grew up literally on the other side of the planet. Collaborating with individuals from places I’ve yet to see or even thought to travel to, has been an experience of a lifetime. It has stretched my capacity to empathize, remain open-minded and celebrate diversity.

What’s been the most surprising piece of your job that you’ve had to do so far? Is there anything that has come along with the role that you didn’t expect?
Interestingly enough, the most rewarding part of my job is also the most surprising. It’s surprising to see the deep and meaningful connections and relationships you can form without ever meeting someone in person. I didn’t expect to be able to truly connect with other people without having much, and in some cases any, in-person interaction. Not to get too deep, (queue deep revelation), but the power of the human connection really does transcend beyond geographic borders and cultural background … with the assistance of modern communications technology like email, phones and videoconference of course.

Shavanna having fun with fellow EVP staff, Brandi, Paige and Claire.

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?
I’ve been fortunate to partner with several countries, most of which have a time difference ranging between six to 12 hours. Australia takes the cake as the farthest with over 10,000 miles in distance and a whopping 15-hour time difference. Managing time differences can be challenging, but it’s all about proactive scheduling and setting expectations.

With essentially a full business day separating you and your partners, it is likely there will never be a “convenient” time to schedule a meeting. Therefore, being flexible is crucial, and I often adjust my schedule when conference calls or Skype meetings must fall outside of my standard office hours. The start of your day often times marks the end of someone else’s, so keeping that top of mind when dealing with deadlines and requests helps you to plan accordingly.

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?
Starting the day with intention always helps with managing your time. Although I use modern time management tools such as email task reminders, digital alerts or virtual calendars, nothing beats a basic to-do list. At the start of the day, I like to map out what tasks I’d like to be completed, which is prioritized by level of urgency and due dates. I’m an old-fashioned, “pen and paper” type of girl so few things are more gratifying than physically crossing off completed tasks for the day. Doing so gives me a sense of accomplishment, but in general helps me remain organized as to what still needs my attention.

A selfie with Shavanna and the students from Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.

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)?
My pleasure (as I harbor little guilt), is watching the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. My delusional expectation is that the show will remain on air forever.