Flexibility and other Soft Skills
Flexibility. It’s something we’ve all–to varying degrees–had to embrace over the last few months. Starting in March, I knew that finding a suitable internship would be difficult, and by April, I conceded that I probably wouldn’t be doing quite the work I had expected in Summer 2020. But, now coming toward the end of my time at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, it is clear that flexibility is paying off and will continue to pay off in the rest of my professional and personal life.
The pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop, unsure what is acceptable and having no clue what comes next. It has been apparent in nearly every sector, from transportation to healthcare to food service. While everyone at the Conference continues to have a head on their shoulders, the acknowledgement that some things are just out of individuals’ control has been freeing. One of the biggest takeaways I will probably have from this experience is my supervisor’s flexibility and openness to feedback and questions. She herself will tell you that she has never dealt with a remote intern or working from home in this capacity, and that she does not have all the answers. Her humility and guidance during this experience have been personally refreshing and professionally invaluable. She and her team have created an environment where it is perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification over a quick text, suggest an off-the-wall idea during a call, or ask for a quick break so you can get back on track.
Our team is friendly, understanding, humble, and flexible. This is intentional, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. By doing our best to live and work with these unspoken traits, we’ve created valuable work without causing undue stress to members of the team. After all, our team members are people with families and lives outside of their work at the Conference. If you can’t value the people doing the work, you simply will not receive valuable work in return.
My work in the Scout Movement has taught me to be flexible and humble, but I never really had the chance to see these traits in organizational leadership outside Scouts until now. In the Movement, most people are volunteers, so most of the people you lead or are led by have to be flexible. Otherwise, no one in their right mind would volunteer! My experience at the Conference taught me that humility and flexibility are 100% transferable to the workplace with the right leadership. I’ll carry this with me throughout the last little bit of my time at the Conference and into the last little bit of my time at Pitt.
GIS and Other Hard Skills
One of the central technologies to transportation planning and administration is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). While I have had experience with GIS and have taken online courses to continually get familiar with it, my work at the Conference helped to introduce me to public-facing advocacy tools that GIS can bring to an organization or agency that’s advocating for funding on innovative projects. The Conference’s Regional Transportation Alliance runs an advocacy website that serves as a platform for transportation and mobility projects that could make a real difference in the Pittsburgh region.
Until this internship, I had only used GIS for data analysis and for non-public-facing dashboards. Using the ArcGIS MapJournal program really revealed how powerful GIS can be in communicating ideas to public officials and residents alike. Providing a narrative alongside powerful maps and on-the-ground images really put Pittsburgh’s transportation needs into perspective. Transportation issues that seem so “out there” and “engineer-y” are suddenly accessible and understandable at the click of a mouse.
Another skill I will take from my work at the Conference is note-taking and transcribing meetings. Because the Conference and the affiliated Chamber of Commerce are involved in so many organizations across the region, the Commonwealth, and the country, there are a ton of Zoom webinars and meetings they have to keep track of. From racial equity to transportation funding (and sometimes a mixture of a whole host of topics, including the two I just mentioned), there is probably at least one Zoom call every single day. Turning these calls into thorough notes was a challenge at first, mostly because I couldn’t write or type fast enough to catch it all. Now, I can send out detailed, near-verbatim notes from a two-hour webinar within 20-30 mins of the end of the call.
A skill that I was able to build upon in this internship was writing memos, making sure only to include the most pertinent information without leaving anything out. I had experience doing this in my internship with Congressman Conor Lamb, but given the Chamber’s involvement at so many levels of government, I churned out quite a few memos to keep everyone abreast of the latest COVID-19, infrastructure and mobility, and police brutality legislation and proposals. This experience has helped my writing to be more concise and my workflow to be more efficient.
With my internship close to coming to an end, I am reflecting on the multiple useful opportunities to expand my skill set and broaden my knowledge of community and economic development in the Pittsburgh region. I did not at all expect to be working at the Allegheny Conference this summer, but I do not think I could have asked for a more immersive, broad education in the future of our region, the challenges we must face, and what we have to do to fully realize a livable region for every person in southwestern Pennsylvania. We have a long way to go.