Project Specialist Spotlight, Q&A Blog Series 1

30.05.2018 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… EVP Project Specialist, Natalie

Color-coding, sticky notes and 2 a.m. Skype calls are “worth it” when leading deserving teams to victory

EVP Project Specialist, Natalie

Tell us about your educational and professional background before EVP.
I will take it from the top! I graduated from a small liberal arts college in Illinois with a B.A. in Psychology and Communication Studies in May of 2015. It was a perfect combination of concentrations for me, as I appreciated learning about how and why individuals interact with one another. In particular, my Psychology & Culture and Intercultural Communications classes sparked my interest. While in school, I interned with a nonprofit that shares stories of families whose children are struggling with terminal illness and developmental disabilities and allows users to come together as an online community to show support for the families. I also interned with my college’s office of development in order to assist the department in raising scholarship money for students. Upon graduation, I gained administrative experience as an assistant for a mid-sized accounting and advisory firm. I am quite thankful for my educational background and first position out of college, as both allowed me an opportunity to fine-tune skills that have been incredibly helpful for my current position as Program Specialist with EVP.

Did you participate in an EVP program as a student? And if so, what’s the difference being on this side?
I did not participate in an EVP program as a student, but certainly wish I had!

Moments like this one, touring NASA after an AFPM final presentation in Houston, allow for PS team members to do a bit of team-building themselves. Shavanna (left) and Natalie otherwise work from different cities but have weekly calls with the rest of their PS colleagues to stay connected.

How do you spend your coffee or lunch breaks? How do you spend your free time?
One of the perks of working for a virtual company is having access to my own kitchen during the workday. I often spend breaks cooking; my go-to recipe is for spinach-feta mini frittatas, but you can’t go wrong with simple scrambled eggs and bacon either. I go to my gym at least twice per week and prefer a long run on the treadmill as my workout. Running not only provides a mental break and increases brain performance, but also is a great stress reliever overall. Every once in a while, I crank out homework during breaks, as I am currently working towards the completion of my M.S. in Management.

Have you had any winning teams? What were their biggest strengths, or what do you feel put them over the top?
I have had three finalist teams: Missouri State University placed first at the AFPM Recruitment Challenge competition in Houston, Simon Fraser University placed second at the Peer to Peer: Facebook Global Digital Challenge OSCE regional competition in Hamburg, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell placed third at the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism competition in D.C. One commonality among the three students’ groups was their synergy. In my opinion, it is critical for team members to communicate well with each other, to embrace diversity and different proposed ideas, and to not be afraid to challenge one another in order to be successful. Most importantly, relentless commitment throughout the entire duration of the program put these three teams on top.

Natalie, second from left, joins her winning team from Simon Fraser University (Canada) for a selfie at their regional finals event in Hamburg, Germany – a truly global affair.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is virtually witnessing my students connect the dots as they develop fantastic ideas in order to fulfill the objectives of the client. The “aha moments,” whether via Snapshots or via Skype calls, always make me so proud to work with bright students worldwide.

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?
Working with international teams can be a bit difficult at times considering the wide array of time zones, but we always find ways to keep connected. The most drastic time zone difference I have encountered is +15 hours (CST to GMT+8). While the primary methods I use for staying in contact with my students are via email and Podio (a project management software), I am always happy to jump on a Skype call to discuss questions “face to face” with teams as well. Sometimes this means waking up at 2 a.m. in order to accommodate a class session, which is always worth it, bags under my eyes and all!

Working for a global company with student teams around the world suits Natalie just fine, since she loves to travel — pictured here on a hike during a trip to Yellowstone.

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 am quite “old-school” when it comes to organization. A daily/weekly/monthly calendar, color-coding, and sticky notes are my primary approach to managing my teams. I also use an extensive Excel spreadsheet to track the progress of all students through each phase of the program in order to ensure every requirement is met.

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)?
Fun Fact: My nephew is older than me.
Guilty Pleasure TV Show(s): Bob’s Burgers! I am also a diehard fan of The Walking Dead and have been watching the show since the day it aired.
Guilty Pleasure Candy: Cow Tails