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Give Back Outside the Office

Meredith Clemmens

Age: 25

Job: IT Program Manager, Silent Solutions, Inc.

Location: Washington, D.C.

Meredith and I were connected through her friend Grace, a YoPro we heard from back in April. When she was interviewed, Meredith was working at Deloitte as a Business Technology Analyst, but she has since moved to Silent Solutions, Inc., as an IT Program Manager, where she is currently overseeing various digital transformation projects for a Maryland-based HVAC/energy company. Though we did talk about Meredith’s role at Deloitte in this interview, we spent most of the time discussing the ways she has shaped her personal and professional self through volunteer opportunities and giving back to her community. I think we can all take something away from her story, regardless of what career stage we are in.

Give us a little background on yourself.

I went to Clemson and had a great opportunity for various internships during my time there while I studied industrial engineering. I interned in the Lean Office at Clemson, in manufacturing in Greenville, SC, and then in healthcare engineering in Boston. My time in Boston working between technical programmers, nurses, and doctors really sparked my interest in consulting, as I loved building bonds between the groups. After my summer in Boston, I applied for a consulting internship at Deloitte in Washington, DC, and then came back full-time a year later. I've been here about two years now and focus on IT strategy for federal clients. What made you want to move to the north?

In college, I interned in Boston and DC, spent a summer in Milan, Italy working as an au pair, and then studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for six months. By the time I had all those experiences, I knew I wanted to be in a more urban setting with greater diversity. When it came down to it, I was really considering Chicago, DC, New York, and Boston. I ended up in DC after my internship with Deloitte. The international presence here as well as the mission-driven culture of the city has kept me around. I’ve loved learning about and working with the nonprofit community here alongside my day job.

Can you talk a little bit more about that diversity aspect and give some examples of some of the nonprofit work in philanthropy you're talking about?

Honestly, growing up in the South created a lot of innate prejudice in me. As I traveled and spent more time in other cities, I recognized it in myself more and wanted to actively find spaces to get the prejudice out of my system. Just being able to live in an area like DC has helped me do that by forming deep relationships with people that are different than me. Specifically, the nonprofit I work with is called StreetWise Partners. They're based out of New York and have a satellite office in DC. StreetWise works with low income and immigrant individuals to give them tools to further their professional development and help them succeed. This is especially important for those that don't speak English as a first language and don't understand our customs here. Even with phenomenal work experience, mentees need help navigating the complex professional workspace. I mentored with StreetWise for a cycle, then volunteered as a group officer, and am now on the local board. I also do some pro bono consulting with them through Deloitte, so it has been an expansive part of my life over the last two years. I probably work with them an average of 10 hours every week.

Can you talk more about being a board member at such a young age?

Growing into the board to do more strategic work was natural after volunteering as a mentor and group officer. I am one of the younger members on the board here in DC, but don't recognize it most of the time as the board is pretty young as a whole. When I first volunteered as a mentor, it was a little trying because many of the mentees that came in were much older than me. For them to listen to a straight-out-of-college 23-year-old was humbling, but I really grew into it and learned that having been a recent workforce hire was actually very helpful for mentees.

How did you balance your StreetWise involvement with work?

Much of the time I’ve spent with StreetWise has been on the weekends. Now that I’m on the board and doing some pro bono work through Deloitte, my volunteer time is more integrated into my work week. I typically bill 40 client hours and then I add 5-10 hours to StreetWise. Federal consulting is often much different than commercial in that I’m not usually expected to work more than 40 client hours a week, which is very nice to allow for more community involvement outside client work.

What do you think has been the hardest thing you've experienced in the workplace and how did you grow from it?

On my first Deloitte project, it took a while for me to dig deep into the weeds as an entry-level analyst before being able to stand up on the other side with confidence. Along the way, I saw and experienced many workplace conditions that I would never wish on another. It was really tough and took a toll on my mental and physical health. However, once I stuck it out and gained the respect of those around me, I had more authority to fight the injustice our team experienced. I learned to do that in a professional way, and did finally begin seeing results, but I do think the giant red flags should have been recognized and addressed by management much sooner. Overall, I’d recommend to anyone starting out in the workforce to be on the lookout for any issues that don’t feel quite right, and address them immediately, rather than letting them grow even deeper. Our leaders have a responsibility to listen to us, even when they don’t want to!

What does your path look like as an analyst in the D.C. office and what does a typical path look like for somebody in your position?

Many analysts come in and leave after about two years once they gain some experience. Similarly, I came in thinking I’d be here three to five years and then maybe move to something new. I'm still kind of thinking that. I like the firm and its people, but I think that within such a big company, I don’t have the ability to utilize many of my strengths like project coordination and leadership because my primary role is really to deliver work. Like I mentioned, I’ve also been frustrated with some of the business practices I’ve seen and think that I'll look to make a move in the next couple of years. I’ve thought about starting my own business someday, too. I have three siblings who each have their own businesses, so they’ve set cool examples for me. Who knows!

What have you been most surprised about since you left Clemson and joined the workforce?

One thing that I wasn't necessarily surprised by, but had to learn, was to say no to nearly everything outside of my workstream right off the bat when starting a new job or project. This was important so I could grow into my own, feel comfortable executing the work truly allocated to me, and then figure out how and where to expand next. I think we can get very over eager for extra work without even knowing it! There’s no need to over impress everyone around me; I just need to do well in my space first, and then grow strategically into areas I’d enjoy that could also use my skillset.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to work in a corporate career?

Work is not meant to be worshipped. It's just not worth it. Do your job and do it well, and honor your company, but be a holistic person and invest in your community. That can help form a career path much better than focusing one hundred percent on climbing the corporate latter and forgetting about your actual talents, desires, and dreams. Corporate America can crush those if you’re not careful! Work is of course good and stretches us in many ways, but there is so much more to be learned about ourselves and our world outside of our day jobs.

What is a book that you have on your nightstand right now?

Right now I’m reading King Leopold's Ghost about the colonization of the Congo. It’s a true story and very depressing, but a good read. It's a piece of history that I don’t think many people know about.

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

– Be a holistic person and invest in your community

– Address issues at work immediately; our leaders have a responsibility to listen to us

– If you don't already, learn to say no to things outside of work right after you start a new job or project

– Work is not meant to be worshipped; it's just not worth it

– There is so much more to be learned about ourselves and our world outside of our day jobs

Check it out: Silent Solutions, Inc., StreetWise Partners, King Leopold's Ghost, Clemson University

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