CSIS has been fortunate to work closely with three excellent team members: Amber Dietrich, Reva Raghupathi, and Preston Smith. As they each move on from their work at CSIS, we checked in with them to hear more about what they worked on during their time at the Center, and what comes next.
What are you most proud of regarding your work at CSIS?
Amber: I’m very proud of coordinating our on-campus convenings for the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy: Seeing over a hundred people from all over the world come together for a week, seeing the community building and relationships that formed within three days, and the inspiration that came out of the event — that was the best part of my job.
Reva: I am most delighted by the opportunity to have worked on a social impact curriculum for high schoolers, which can help activate a new generation to create social change.
Preston: Organization! I’m really glad that I could help and talk to other departments to make things happen. Saying “we can’t do it” is not really an answer, so I became an intermediary between the university’s rigid and shifting rules, and the Center’s somewhat organized chaos.
What are you taking with you from this role?
Amber: The biggest takeaway for me is how to brainstorm and collaborate with other people — especially by using design thinking. In my current [full time] job, I’ve taught some of my coworkers the best way to run a meeting, get input, design, and get feedback. Just learning how to shift your mindset amazes people. I’ve also learned how important it is to try and understand where other people (in this case, our learners) are coming from: sometimes people don’t have easy access to Wi-Fi, or they’re dealing with social movements that prohibit them from working. It makes a huge different to accommodate them as much as possible, and to let them know that you hear them and can support them. I was fortunate to have this as a great first job out of college, to create relationships that will continue long after.
Reva: I’m taking with me fundamental principles that can be readily applied across sectors, whether in academia, business or nonprofit, and across situations, whether with high schoolers or entrepreneurs. You just need some adjustment to suit the situation or audience.
Preston: I’m taking with me a more defined appreciation for what CSIS team does. Having previous worked on a university finance team, I was used to being on the other side of transactions, and it is a completely different experience to work in this department and see things from the front side, so to speak, and to understand what we do on regular basis, what our programs provide to participants, and why that is important in-and-of itself. As I’ve onboarded some of the teaching fellows for the Executive Program, I’ve learned more about each of these people, what they’re looking for and bringing to program. This is a really valuable vantage point: to be able to understand how the department operates and what they’re looking for.
What advice do you have for others out in the world who hope to make a positive impact?
Amber: Put yourself out there and make genuine connections anywhere you go. Creating genuine connections is the foundation of CSIS’ work, and it makes me feel like I’ve left a positive impact — to know that I could reach out to any of our learners from the past three years and ask for guidance or support. By being authentic and honest and listening to what people have to say — and how they feel — then, you can help them in the best possible way.
Reva: My advice for others who want to make a positive impact is to keep trying. Impact work is harder than most other types of work, since it is easy for others to be skeptical. So keep trying. But also — be willing to walk away from things that turn out to be a poor fit. There is an opportunity cost with everything you choose to do and your time is a precious resource. Always check your motivations.
Preston: Have an understanding of yourself first: What can you contribute to whatever it is that you want to do? The things I’ve looked at doing — even something as simple as knitting — before I started I stopped and decided, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I am going to the store to buy the materials and do it.” I now have an understanding of myself to know that I can do this, and I have committed to it. Make up you’re mind that you are going to complete this project or idea before you start. Know who you are and what your strengths are, and make commitments that are in line with that.
Outside of social impact, what are some of your other interests?
Amber: I’ve taken a huge interest in training my puppy, and I read or watch dog training materials at least 2 hours every day. Wedding planning has also taken up a lot of time. When I’m not doing either of these things, I’m on my Peloton bike — or binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy.
Reva: Being a mom is always job #1. Now, along with much of the world’s population, I have re-discovered the joys of cooking and baking during the pandemic.
Preston: I really enjoy knitting, and finding great recipes for my instant pot. I’d like to travel more. When the pandemic is over I’d like to take the skydiving birthday trip that I had to cancel this year.
What has been your go-to quarantine snack, music, and hobby?
Snack: White cheddar popcorn and ice cream
Music: Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac
Hobby: House renovation
Reva: My go-to quarantine hobby has been to read old childhood favorites. I re-read every Agatha Christie in the first few months of the pandemic. Shout-out to Project Gutenberg and my public library’s digital collections!
Snack: Gold emblem trail mix, pick it up from CVS. (I’ve tried other trail mixes that are supposedly the same blend, and they’re not the same!)
Music: Chill, loungey playlist. Or, Cherish the Day by Sade. I love the message.
Hobby: Knitting and photography. I’m doing these every single day.
What’s next for you?
Amber: Currently, I work full-time at a charter school in Northeast Philly as their athletics and activities site manager. I oversee all out-of-school activities: tutoring, clubs, athletics. This has all gone virtual in last six months, so now I’m overseeing revamping the school garden, running virtual clubs, helping with classes transitioning online, distributing lunches, coordinating laptop pickup, and distributing supplies.
Reva: I have taken on a role as Vice-President of Strategic Alliances with a 2-year-old start-up, which combines old and new. The old: the founder and I were schoolmates in our teens, and the company’s focus is chemistry, the field in which I started my professional career. The new: working for a start-up and trying to help it achieve massive growth.
Preston: I’m developing out my knitting and photography businesses over the next year: Knit Up Philly. In terms of immediate next steps, I want to stay in higher education, hopefully in grants.
Our thanks goes to Amber, Reva, and Preston for their excellent work with the Center for Social Impact Strategy. Our team is small, and every person on the team makes their own contribution to the culture and values. Each of them has not just supported our programs and learners, but left their own mark on how we do what we do. Thank you!