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, Mary
With a background in fine arts, international nonprofit work and documentary film production, Mary brings an array of unique skills, along with a love of coffee, to her role at EVP
Tell us about your educational and professional background before EVP.
I hold a Master of Fine Arts in Film from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Prior to working at EVP, I worked for nonprofit arts organizations in the Chicago area, like the Video Data Bank at SAIC and The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago. Both organizations have strong international ties and vibrant academic communities, which relates well to the work I do now. I also worked on documentary film productions on the side, including my own and for television, some of which aired on PBS and Al Jazeera America.
How do you spend your coffee or lunch breaks? How do you spend your free time?
I love coffee! I do the “pour over” Chemex coffee method at my house, which I’ve slowly perfected. It’s a good thing I live in Chicago because Intelligentsia Coffee is headquartered here, which is my coffee staple.
In my free time, I enjoy taking hikes, especially at National Parks. I am also a major film nerd, often watching several films a week.
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 a few finalist teams. Honestly, the teams were all quite different. One team excelled in part because of a technological tool they developed, another had state of the art research methods, while another campaign was extremely scalable, sustainable and transferable. That being said, in order to become a finalist, you have to excel in every area of your campaign. All finalist teams have professional looking branding, a clear and consistent campaign concept, innovative engagement tactics and they must be able to demonstrate a measurable impact on their community. One important detail that a lot of teams overlook is the importance of utilizing all of the campaign funds and ad credits to their fullest potential, as well as leveraging their campaign with local partners. If you take a step back and look at the competition as a whole, the one common denominator is the budget. If your team can accomplish more than other teams, using the same amount of funds, your team will stand out!
What’s been the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I see my students continue with their campaigns, receive grants or form nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It always brings a smile to face to read about my teams in the North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia making a real difference in their communities. Their creative energy and commitment to their cause is positively uplifting.
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?
Coming from a fine art background, I never expected to attend the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Annual Security Review Conference in Vienna, Austria. Being surrounded by the diplomats and experts who make major decisions regarding cyber threats, terrorism and security-building measures was quite an honor. This experience inspired me to read a number of books on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in the cyber sphere.
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?
This is a shout out to all my international teams, but especially those in Indonesia and Malaysia – which are 12 to 14 hours ahead of my time in the United States! Due to the time difference, it can be challenging to find a point of time in the day that works well for everyone to meet via Skype, but it is certainly worth the effort. I’ve found there’s really no replacement for talking in real time with my teams and I will completely rearrange my schedule to make it happen, even if that means a 1 a.m. call in my time zone.
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?
I recently read a book by Cal Newport, Professor at Georgetown University, called “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” which has been influential to my productivity and time management. The book explains that there is a difference between deep work and shallow work that we accomplish on a daily basis. For example, emails and correspondence usually fall in the shallow work category, whereas special projects like writing an essay, research or editing a video require deeper concentration. According to the book, in a singular day, the human brain can process up to 4 1/2 hours of deep work with approximately three hours of shallow work. I find that I’m the most productive, when I schedule bursts of deep work and shallow work throughout my day. According to Newport, focusing on tasks in this way supports our brains ability to process information better and work at our fullest potential.
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 developed a love for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series (1996-2003) after it originally aired. The Creator, Joss Whedon, is an incredible screenwriter, and I like almost every TV and Film production that he’s ever been involved with. Surprisingly, whenever I mention my love for Buffy, it always sparks conversation, and I have an immediate bond with people who also love that show.