My experience working on this project didn’t just expand my knowledge of Connellsville and the Appalachian region, it also helped me develop important skills that will help me throughout the rest of my college career and beyond. The first two major skills that matured immensely for me during the course of this project was teamwork and initiative. While it may sound trivial, I honestly haven’t had experiences with many group projects during my time here at the University. Also, during those limited experiences, it was heavily monitored by my professor with frequent check-ins and mutual accountability. Though, for the ATP, we weren’t given the same monitored time or clear guidelines. The project also wasn’t something that we could not all work on individually, it had to be completed as a group.
My experience the first half the semester was marked by a certain level of passiveness and independence. I showed up for meetings every week but that was the extent of my participation. As we approached the deadline for the presentation in Connellsville, our group started to panic. We had hardly started working on the deliverables yet and the slide show presentation was non-existent. Our biggest problems were that we had no idea what the deliverables were supposed to look like or how to distribute the work since we were all in different capstone classes. Then there was me who wasn’t in any capstone and even more confused of what my weekly assignments on the project were supposed to look like. Eventually, we all had to start taking initiatives or else the project was not going to be completed. We had set up an emergency meeting and I realized that it was the first time we had really communicated with each other since we started working on the project (another important skill this project helped me strengthen). We started with what we knew and filled in the rest from there. Once we started setting goals and self- assigning parts of the project, that is when we really started working as a team. Our collaboration and support for each other as a group is what was able to make the presentation happen on time. I realized quickly that no one could get anything done unless we stepped up to help each other and became experts at conflict resolution.
Another skill that I was really pushed to build is my adaptability. There were many times throughout the process where I had to sacrifice my time in order to be a better group member or learn a new skill in order to further our work. This was especially true during the last few weeks of the project when creating both of our presentations. For us to be able to produce and practice the two presentations, one for Connellsville and the other for the Appalachian Teaching Project, we needed to find time to meet together, collaborate, and do multiple run throughs. We also had to find time to meet with our professors in order to clarify what the expectations were of us and how we could best achieve them. There were many times where I did not want to be flexible and I didn’t want to be the person who was always reliable but that was a big part of my growth of being a better teammate as well. And, it paid off in the end when reaching the actual presentation days, I felt very secure in our presentation and was more than satisfied with my contributions. Being that we started much later than we should’ve, we all had to adapt to the time constraints which is very applicable to a real-life situation.
Back in High School when I attended leadership camp, I was told that my leadership style tended to lean towards supportive (high support and low directive leadership behavior). Obviously, there were times where I had to be more directive but that was usually when I was dealing with children. For much of this project, I did not consider myself a leader. I was one of the youngest students on the project and I wasn’t even in a Capstone class. I kind of thought of myself as an extra helping hand and not as a valuable contributor. Though, towards the end I realized that I could also be a leader on this project. I stepped up when I needed to and delegated parts of the project at times when no one was volunteering. Likewise, I learned that there can never be too many leaders on a project as long as everyone is also creating a supportive environment. Similarly, I learned that being more direct isn’t a bad thing if the situation calls for it and can be used even if you are “less experienced” than the people you are working with.
Overall, I actually got to see my leadership style evolution in action when working on another group project for my Theory of Justice class this semester. For our project, we had to give a presentation on an area of injustice in the world and answer several questions. During our first meeting I started off by taking a passive role but then slowly transitioned into more of a coaching style when I began to think that things weren’t getting done as efficiently. While being a leader doesn’t always mean taking charge, sometimes people need more of a direct approach. And, I would not have had the confidence to take as much control as I did if it were not for my experience working on the ATP.
As someone who knows they want to go into law post graduation, this experience doesn’t seem quite as applicable as someone else who might want to go into public policy or urban studies. I guess on the one hand you could say that this experience solidified my professional career trajectory by confirming that I’m not as interested in public planning and, therefore, should stick with my law plans. However, I did find the type of work we were doing very interesting. If I do end up at law school, I can definitely see myself going into a sector where I work with people in Appalachia or go into a type of policy law where I can help with the type of economic, political, and social disadvantages faced in this region. Additionally, while it might not have had much effect on my post-grad career plans, I’m still a junior and can take more classes that are related to Appalachia (or some related subject area) that I can use to help next year’s research group if I’m able to continue on with the project.
To wrap up, when looking at my growth over this project- based course experience, I can point out a few areas within myself that I think have really improved. For starters, going into this project I was not very confident in my abilities. Partly because I was thrown into the project a week late and had no idea what was going on, but also because I suffer from imposter syndrome on occasions. I have a bad habit of feeling like I don’t belong in a room because I assume everyone else is smarter than me. Which, if you know me, is abnormal because I tend to be a very confident person overall. By the end of the project, I felt more than confident in my own abilities- whether that be my intelligence, my leadership skills, or my ability to work effectively in a group.
One area of growth that I wasn’t really expecting to grow in was in my general presentation skills. After running through our presentation for the first time in front of the staff, we were told that we had a lot of elements missing from it like a proper introduction as well as a few other logistics. More than that though, we were missing the personability and needed to cater the project more towards our audience (which for that presentation specifically was Connellsville). I had never thought much about how presentations can be stylized based on audience to completely enhance the presentation. Another area that I got a chance to develop is being more comfortable asking for support and guidance. I usually tend to try to do everything on my own which doesn’t always work in a group project, especially one as collaborative as this. I got a lot more comfortable asking my teammates and the faculty members to help me or give me feedback on certain parts of the project which, I thought, really made a difference in overall quality. All in all, I will take a lot from this project but those, along with the transferable skills I mentioned in the beginning, will be the most valuable that I take with me going forward after the project.