Ask an Alumni: Jeff Roberts
PROVO, Utah – Aug 10, 2017 – As part of a new series, the Ballard Center is giving students the opportunity to ask alumni questions and career advice. This piece features Jeff Roberts, who works as a project manager at Self-Reliance Services/PEF for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To learn more about Jeff and his background with the Ballard Center, read his alumni success story.
Q: “What are the social issues your organization is trying to solve and what innovative solutions are they looking to apply?”
– Ballard Center
We are all about helping people become spiritually and temporally self-reliant. On the spiritual side we are trying to help people establish a stronger relationship with God through things like prayer, scripture study, and weekly meeting attendance. On the temporal side we are trying to help people increase their income and savings and decrease debt. There are many organizations focused on the temporal side (poverty reduction), but our unique approach of both spiritual and temporal combined is what I think makes the difference. Another innovative aspect about what we do is our wholistic approach to training. We have trainings for employment, self-employment, education and personal finances. People can choose the best path based on their needs. Also the fact that these trainings are done in small groups of 8-15 people makes a big difference. The groups provide peer-to-peer support and help people learn how to solve their own problems.
Q: “What skills would you recommend students learn in order to make ourselves more competitive?”
– Troy Looper, Pre-Management & International Development
Jeff: Definitely communicating effectively is an important skill - both written and verbal communication. In any business environment, you won't succeed without relationships. The better you get at communicating and effectively interacting with other people - especially in team settings - the more likely you are to succeed.
It’s also important to develop a good set of hard skills, maybe even with the software or newest technology. Being able to utilize those technologies, especially in an environment if you’re just coming out of school, gives you an edge compared to your colleagues and can make you an asset.
If you're not in a major that gives you those hard skills, take a class so you can learn those hard skills on the job. Mix the hard and soft skills. A lot of hard skills you can learn on the job but it’s helpful to bring those to table as a new employee.
Q:“How did getting an MPA help you in your social innovation pursuits?”
– Alyssa Clark, Sociology
Jeff: I did my undergrad in finance and a minor in nonprofit management and I came to the decision of choosing between pursuing corporate finance and moving to social innovation later or to go out on limb and get involved now. I was involved with the Ballard Center as undergrad and decided that I wanted to stay involved. That led to the decision to come back to BYU for my MPA and stay involved with the Ballard Center.
I was able to supplement my MPA with a lot of great business classes and ended up doing a minor in information systems. I gained really good experience with Excel and VBA project management as well as global business certificate and the social innovation minor. All of it led to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was brought into meetings with General Authorities and executive management because I knew those softwares.The combination of hard skills and soft skills helped me succeed in my internship and eventually land the job with Self-Reliance Services after graduation.
Q: “What has impressed you about the interns you have overseen through the Ballard Center’s social innovations projects?”
– Sam Loveland, Advertising
Jeff: The level of professionalism students demonstrate. They’ve always brought a level of professionalism to the projects along with a desire for innovation and creativity while still being willing to work in ambiguity. From the standpoint of Self-Reliance Services, we always try to provide vision and direction but when students have room to be innovative and creative that's when Ballard Center students do well with that.
A lot of our projects need language capabilities because we work in 130 countries which requires 30-40 languages. BYU is extremely unique with so many language speakers and we wouldn’t be able to do these projects with any other school, even here in Utah.
Q: “What advice do you have for students interested in getting involved in this kind of work with the Church?”
– Erin Stocksdale, Sociology & International Development
Jeff: My advice is get involved. If we have an on-campus project, get involved. Get involved with the projects and then work hard and show what you can do. The social innovation projects we use are real projects and real things we’re trying to do. That’s a good indicator of whether or not you’d do well with us.
We’re a smaller group at headquarters here in Salt Lake City. There’s not always a ton of openings, but when you interact or network, you’ll be able to become known and be considered for those positions.
So really, there is power behind getting involved, working hard, and getting to know people. Recently, I had an experience through BYU Connect where a student reached out to me a few weeks ago. We talked about what she wanted to accomplish and what she could do and it just so happened we had an internship coming up and now she has an internship with us for the rest of the summer.
Q: “What advice would you have to Changemaker students about deciding and preparing for the right career?”
– Lauren Thomas, Public Relations
Jeff: My advice would be to pray and then get to work. I’ve been blessed in the sense that for me; one opportunity has led to another. There were some key decision points between corporate finance and getting involved and engaged right now, but for me the right decision was to get involved and engaged right now.
It can be intimidating when you’re at those decision points, but it was that idea of “pray and go to work” and then pray and do something different. Try and understand yourself and your God-given gifts and then seek God’s help and be willing to make pivots and changes in life and career. Everyone has a different personal mission in life and different talents and abilities.
It comes back to gaining skills. For some people that means starting in the private sector to develop skills and then coming back to this sector. Or maybe being an intrepreneur at a different organization. Sometimes we try and categorize it, but honestly you can be a changemaker wherever you go as long as you are living up to the talents and principles you’ve developed and you are seeking to do good better.
Q: “What's one skill or ability that you are looking to develop now?”
– Ballard Center
One skill or ability I am looking to develop is to be more effective at defining direction. Taking a vision and clearly communicating that vision to a team so that we can accomplish the work. There is great value in being able to clearly define direction as it saves a lot of time and money down the road.
Are you interested in working as an on-campus intern with LDS Self-Reliance Services? Apply to join a Social Innovation Project through the Ballard Center at power.byu.edu.
Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-9009
Writer: Jordan Christiansen