Final Reflection: “Summer Camps and Conferences, this is Ellie!”

Reflect on what you learned over the course of your internship, making explicit reference to the learning outcomes you discussed in your Personal Plan paper, Site Description and Personal Contribution paper and your Learning Contract. (40 points)Reflect on what you learned over the course of your internship, making explicit reference to the learning outcomes you discussed in your Personal Plan paper, Site Description and Personal Contribution paper and your Learning Contract. (40 points)

As it turns out – contrary to my Personal Plan paper’s projected destiny for summer 2019 – I did not end up working in Washington D.C, nor did I immerse myself in what I had deemed “the quintessential for-profit marketing world”. Yes, it’s true: my personal plans did not pan out as I had initially predicted, and my hope to branch out from the nonprofit world (as noted in the paper) did not materialize—an ironic realization that I had at the start of the summer… more on this later.

Granted, the language I used in my Personal Plan paper erred on the very hypothetical side, for I was only about ankle-deep in the interview process with Global Prairie at the time of submitting it. To quote my paper, I mused: “Over the past two years, I have developed a heart for nonprofit… [this summer] I am seeking for-profit companies that partner with nonprofits”. In reflecting on the summers before this past one, I must have felt as though I were too well-traveled in the nonprofit world—not capable of further circumnavigation. This sentiment changed, of course, as summer 2019 rolled around.

Unbeknownst to my pre-summer 2019 self, University of Richmond is…well…a nonprofit! In finding this out within the first two weeks of my internship, I thought to myself: “Did I just accidentally enter into my third summer of nonprofit work?” Little did I know just how differently a University operates (the University of Richmond, in particular) apart from my narrow scope of traditional nonprofits organizations. I was for some reason tethered to merely two summers of experience, unaware of what else could exist in the broader nonprofit realm.

In a few words, the Events Office is organized, detail-oriented, prompt, fast-paced, and purposeful. All of these descriptions are customary for nonprofit success, yet the reality is that organization and promptness tend to be lacking or missing altogether due to a scarcity of resources. I appreciated that all of these aspects were in tact at the core of the office culture because what resulted was a well-run environment. To this point, I felt well-informed throughout the summer—even when I did not have all of the answers–because I could fall back on problem-solving by way of readily available resources. In my previous two summers, I sometimes did not experience the luxury of this safety net.

As referenced in almost all of my six reflections, communication and collaboration within the Events Office and throughout campus (i.e. with One Card, Dining Services, the Chaplaincy, Information Services, etc.) made for smooth-sailing weeks—even when certain days elicited choppy (albeit temporary) paths. Therefore, one could argue that the departments that exist within the greater University of Richmond web are necessary, sub-nonprofits. When I take a step back, then, I see that I actually did have the opportunity to witness a “company that partners with nonprofits” … just in a less corporate setting, and through a more cohesive system. Thus, I witnessed how the departmental networking across campus serves as the hands and feet of the University body.

This leads me to my next realization: I failed to articulate a crucial insight in my Personal Plan paper concerning nonprofits. As opposed to securing a one-way ticket out of the nonprofit sector, I was seeking a perspectival shift– one that would reinvigorate my appreciation for nonprofits, from a more diversified viewpoint. I can confirm that I possess this new perspective now, with reference to my Learning Contract: “[the Events Office afforded] me a window into the symbiotic nature of the University as a whole”. I saw firsthand the benefits of cross-communication, and the emphasis placed on a larger purpose—all of which transformed how I view nonprofit potential.

While I loved and stood by the missions at AmeriCorps and RMHC Richmond in summers ’17 and ‘18, this summer was better suited for my current goals and personality traits. In looking back at this summer, I feel confident that I achieved my goal of developing more self-sufficiency through delegation, specifically. When delegated a task, one must complete it with the well-being of the team in mind (speaking from our circumstances, at least). While I allowed myself to ask questions, I was also determined to carry out tasks independently (when appropriate) in order to minimize strain on our team. In other words, we all sought to do our portion for the greater good. How utilitarian! Thus, this summer was distinct from my previous two summers in that I relied less on my co-workers, and collaborated more alongside them–especially when we needed to have a “pow wow”.

Not only did collaboration correlate to personal growth, but “being one of the faces of UR” challenged me to do tasks well each day. To quote my Site Description & Personal Contribution paper:

“As an Assistant Manager, I will be working directly with all elements of event planning and execution, including the following: pre-event planning, prompt communication, event check-in & out, housing preparation, meeting space arrangements, visitor parking passes, catering and dining logistics, A/V Staff & Equipment, event schedules, etc. Through all of this, I will serve as a representative for the University, and I will be tasked to maintain a friendly aura while remaining committed to excellent service and group work concepts.”

Building on this, I also noted in my paper the intent to “sharpen my skills in independent problem-solving”. In retrospect, I feel like I was able to gain more astute on-the-spot thinking skills, especially during my two-week on-call tenure. With the exception of notifying Facilities via phone and email, I learned how to be more immediately decisive when group directors would call with requests and/or questions. Rather than transferring clients to someone else with more experience (in a selfish effort to circumvent my own state of confusion), I tried to be helpful with the knowledge that I had to offer. In doing so, I became comfortable with feeling uncomfortable in the unknown.

With these new abilities, I feel equipped to stand on my own two feet going into senior year and post-grad thereafter. And, I want to continue to bring an extra dosage of optimism to every situation life offers. Though I highlighted this in my personal contributions reflection, I want to also include an excerpt from my Site Description paper here:

“Combining energy and passion is a task that I seek to accomplish in everything that I do in life, and I think that this summer will be afford me the chance to channel this mindset for the greater good of the office – and those who travel to campus for their events.”

Through my summer camps and conferences assistant manager role on campus, I gained exposure to not only marketing, but customer service, departmental correspondence, direct interaction with clients, etc.—all under the umbrella of higher education. Simply put, I got to spend the past ten weeks observing the art of how-to-keep-a-University-afloat, and I looked internally to reflect along the way. In sum, my internship experience stretched me personally and professionally in ways that I feel will be applicable in not only the academic setting, but also the fast-approaching real-world life.

Describe the way in which your leadership studies courses informed the way that you understood the organization with which you worked and the way that you approached your work. You should draw from your structured reflections throughout the summer to assist you in this process. (40 points)

Transitioning now to the influence of Leadership on my summer experience, I think I was subconsciously more prepared than I thought—at least from an observer’s standpoint.

For example, something that was introduced to me at the beginning of this summer was the concept of “under-promising, over-delivering”. I remember thinking, “Dr. Flanigan would love this logical exercise.” However, in week one, this approach seemed unethical to me: Isn’t under-promising a bit…dishonest? Outside of the bounds of transparency? Could it be…an excuse to employ ulterior motives? WHERE is the justice?

Of course, these motives are not publicized to groups and conferences who come to campus. Even still, I grappled internally with how to execute them; as someone who struggles with over-providing assurance for the sake of others’ comfort, I had to adapt to this foreign mentality of withholding certain information for the purpose of avoiding chaos. And, let me be the first to say, the approach worked. As it turns out, I was overthinking all of it. Every bit of it.

Under-promising is less about dodging requests than it is about choosing the most concise and professional language to respond in a respectful manner. If, hypothetically, a group asks for a new doorknob to be installed on the exterior of one of the buildings, you can politely start by responding with “Let me look into that for you!” This is neither a promise for “yes, we can do that”, nor is it a hard “nope, not possible…what kind of a request is that?”. Therefore, your response under-promises, which yields greater chances of a satisfying solution—even if that means no doorknob because at least we did our due diligence before breaking the news. Critical Thinking helped to inform this line of thought…if p, then q; if not p, then not q.

In realizing this, I now understand that to over-promise would be to extend false hope. And, to give false hope would be to reap greater disappointment amongst the clientele. Professor Kaufman would advise against this approach in support of the leader-follower equilibrium. For example, over-promising and under-delivering may result in the following scenario: “Where is that free Starbucks coffee you promised us for each building?” Boom.  The follower is pit against the leader out of pure resentment. In short, you would have an angry client, and a future contract in jeopardy. Misperceived power. Frustration. Corruption. Tainted Reputation. And so, the cycle spins out of control.

It is no surprise, then, that interwoven in and throughout all customer service requests is the importance of communication. Communication, communication, communication. I have used this metaphor in the past, and I will recycle it here for the purpose of illustration: The University is the circulatory system, and the Events Office functions as the anatomical heart of campus during the summertime. It is often the case in which we, the student employees, acted as both the arteries and the veins. We carried information away from the office—transferring our best knowledge to the extremities (camps and conferences)—and then reported back with new findings/requests (i.e. clogged toilet in Gateway, AC too loud, etc. etc.). Day in and day out, we monitored the pumping of the heart, ensuring that the University still has a pulse. Should blood flow become sluggish, the University’s reputation could be tarnished—which would result in a full-body shutdown! To this point, a lack of communication can do a disservice to others. Dr. Soderlund emphasized this in our Justice class, as we found it difficult to coordinate 25 hours with our community service sites without two-way communication.

I am looking forward to applying what I learned this summer in the Jepson classrooms, and I would like to conclude with a short passage from Robert Egger’s book, Begging for Change: the Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All: 

“No matter what type of organization you lead, whether it’s nonprofit, for-profit, or governmental, the results should be the same. The more purpose you create, the more profit you’ll generate; the more profit you generate, the more purpose you create. Companies and organizations that strive for social change can show us the possibilities of running a businesslike nonprofit, and a nonprofit-like business. And the marriage of these two ideas is our future” (166).