Updated: May 18
In this episode we speak with Katie Ervin, Associate VP of Strategic Alliances at Park University. Katie shared her valuable insight into the learning and development industry as it contrasts in the corporate vs. educational realms. Katie also shares her passion for positivity and nurturing the younger generations with life skills.
(edited for clarity and content)
Hello, everybody. My name is Matthew Heinecke, and welcome to Maximize Talks. Today we're speaking with Katie Ervin. She's the associate VP of Strategic Alliances at Park University. She's passionate about lifelong learning and working with organizations to invest in their people and professional development. She helps organizations understand the importance of investing in their people's happiness at work.
Welcome, Katie. We're happy to have you here.
Thanks so much.
You're welcome. My first question is just kind of an icebreaker. But could you tell us something about yourself that's maybe something different, something interesting or unique that nobody might normally know about you?
Yeah, well, and I will say career wise, it's really interesting. My background is this neat hodgepodge that has brought me to where I am today. So I did 14 years of corporate HR before I moved over to higher ed. And being in higher ed administration, a lot of people think that I, you know, in working on the traditional education side, and well, I'm passionate about that, I'm fortunate to be able to use so much more of my HR skills.
And so I deal a lot with people and relationships and engagement and a, you know, how do we all work together, and bring our communities together? So I'm able to really mesh those two together, which is nice.
It sounds interesting, it's good. It's, it's interesting coming from, like you said, the corporate world, to the educational world. What have you found have been the main differences between the two, the two areas?
Yeah. And that's, that's one of the cool things that I get to do is really bridge the differences. And so much, we hear people say, Oh, well, you don't need a college degree or, you know, college is so expensive. And, and it is, and, and I will say education is continuing to, to work on that, that is a never ending discussion of how we, you know, increase value and decrease costs and things like that.
And, and the uniqueness that I get to do is say, you know, when I was a corporate HR leader, here's the gaps that I always found in my employees. We really need to make sure as a higher ed learning institution, that we're really helping fill those gaps. To the point, I'm currently building a certificate for students that is bringing those life skills, everyone calls them something different, whether it's leadership skills, foundation skills, but it's all the same, like, how do we, you know, deal with resilience and grit and time management, and you learn those things in a liberal arts education, we just don't always have the skills to explain it.
So a quick example, I have an almost done freshmen in college, he's finishing up this week. And during finals week, he's so stressed out, and he's like, Well, my professor added another paper, and there's all this craziness. And they said, you know, not only are you learning English and math and history, but you're learning these skills that are critical in life, you're learning time management, you're learning how to have conversations with, you know, your professors, look, I'm struggling, and I need help.
Here's how to ask for help. You're learning these critical skills, we just don't always know how to have those conversations. Park and other universities are starting to really have those conversations with the corporate world, but how do we express the skills that we're learning?
No, I think that's really cool. That's great. You know, I always thought that it would be good, even at the younger ages, you know, at a very early age, in the elementary schools, if they started teaching some of these, you know, people skills or life skills, like you say, we're learning to communicate better with each other learning to deal with your emotions better. I think it goes a long way in terms of education, because you're right, those are not really skills that they teach normally. And even as a parent, you may not have the skills to know how to teach that as well. So that's cool.
Yeah. And I will say, that is one of my passions. Before I came to Park, it's always been my passion. And so my, my ultimate dream is to have a leadership institute that's age and stage appropriate. So we're having these we're talking about the same nine skills in middle school, high school, college, all the way up to retirement, and we're having different conversations.
But with my 17 year old daughter, I'm able to talk about, you know, this is a conflict, how do we deal with conflict and even, you know, when they have disagreements, and she's like, Oh, I'm so mad at so and so what's actually unkind for you to tell that to me and not tell it to her? And so you need to go to her and have a conversation. I know you did it this way, but it hurt my feelings. And so can we talk about that. And it's really cool to see these teenage girls have these conversations and what valuable skills they will have. There's not that girl drama. There's this very adult skill development of, hey, let's go through this as adults. And I think if we can start that conversation early The world will just be a better place.
Oh, for sure, for sure. I think, yeah, you'll have less crime, less poverty. Just having those skills, you know, even for myself, the more I learn, the more happy I am and the better my relationships are and the more my business has grown. I totally agree. I think seeing my children, or my daughter is 18 as well. And yes, she is way, way more mature than I ever was at that age. So it's, it's cool to see how they're talking. And they're doing things like meditation and mindfulness and all of that. That's really interesting.
Yeah, I love that.
So how do you think, you know, in your, in your job? university? What are some of the ways that you're trying to incorporate this?
Yeah, so there's, there's actually two ways that I'm really trying to carry this vision forward. One is internally, you know, at Park, I have told people since day one, like, I'm here to listen to you, you know, come complain to me, I love. I love complaints. Because when you complain, we know what the problem is, and we can work to fix it. And that really comes from my HR world, I was the HR director for a luxury hotel here in Kansas City. And we really celebrated customer complaints. Because we know, if a customer has a problem and complaints, and we're able to fix it, the likelihood for them to return increases and for them to share their experiences. And I think we're so afraid to hear complaints that we don't welcome feedback.
That's one of the things internally at Park that I really value is those relationships and conversations. I hope people across the network come to me and say, I know this isn't in your lane. But here's a problem, you know, can you help me kind of problem solve and work through it? And it helps me build relationships, but then it also helps look at the real root of the problem. Is it that we need to put training in it? Or is it you know, somebody knows, the real root of the problem. So I'm doing a lot of that internally, at PARC. And then the external with my role of strategic alliances, is I work with organizations outside of Park to help them find educational and development opportunities for your people.
I'm spending a lot of time with, you know, community partners to say, What's it to do this sitting next year? Don't ask that you always want to get to that you can't, because time and money is a challenge and then working through with him? Is that really the root of the problem? Is that really what you're trying to solve? And so I just worked with a community partner, and we've created a six months development program for their frontline supervisors. And it's these nine skills, like we now affectionately call it the sushi list. And it's nine skills. And so we start working through the sushi list, you know, what do you want to work on this week? Or, and so, so I really am making sure that we're having the same conversations, whether it's internally or externally about these nine skills.
Yeah, that's really cool. I vote you for president. Because, I mean, I really like what you said that you can do love complaints. And I agree that Yeah, you know, people are afraid to complain, they don't want to, they don't want to look like the complainer. And there's a difference between complaining and trying to solve a problem. But, you know, if you, as a business owner, or as a leader, you don't know what the problem is, nobody ever tells you, then it will just get worse and worse and worse. So I really like that kind of philosophy.
Yeah. And, you know, it's funny, I just finished a meeting. And I said, you know, we need to celebrate, that people are, you know, telling their problems out loud, and not just sitting in their office I, I told a faculty member a couple years ago, you know, they were very frustrated in a meeting, and I could feel the frustration. And so I set up a private meeting with them. And I said, there's history here that I don't know about, and I need to understand why you're so frustrated. She unloaded all that frustration.
I said, I can't apologize for something I wasn't involved with, but I can commit to you going forward, that I will do all I can to to work with you to move back move forward and be better is to but you have to commit to me that you're not going to live in the history and the frustration like you have to let that go. Because if you're going to sit around and just complain, then done, I can't do anything for you. But if you're committed to change, I'm all in and the cool part is especially the number now coming and sharing with me all the time like, okay, here's the next problem, how are we going to solve it?
And it's like, yes, we are making traction, because they're, they're not sitting in their offices complaining, they're talking about in public and that they should celebrate when people come to us with, here's what I need fixed.
No, I agree, we, we do a course on psychological safety. I'm a big proponent of psychological safety, and where, you know, just letting everybody feel like they have that voice, their voice can be heard, we're not going to judge you or criticize you for any of your, your opinions or your ideas. So yeah, I do.
I'm going to switch gears a little bit, and talk about culture, and not particularly like corporate culture, but just cultural differences in the workplace, you know, people working maybe from their different religious backgrounds, or political backgrounds, or just coming from different countries or different races. And so what is your What are your experiences with cultural differences in the workplace?
You know, and this, this is such an important topic, and it's not a new topic, I am energized that we're talking about it more, because I think it's so critical. And as someone throughout my whole career have really prided myself, even, you know, when I was in HR, you know, it's not about the poster, you know, just because we have a poster that has all the colors and backgrounds and experiences.
If we're not living that every day, if we're not elevating those voices, if we're not hearing the experiences, then it's just a poster. And it's actually more frustrating for people that we slap up a poster and say, Look, this is we're inclusive look at us, and our actions behind it don't show that.
The coolest conversations I've been having lately are just around this topic, you know, how do I as an ally, always make sure that that I'm better and paying attention to my biases, and my blind spots, because we all have them come come from a really positive place of wanting to learn and be better and grow and, and that psychological safety, that that environment where we can say, this may not come out, right, it's coming from a good place, but help me understand.
I will say, I have so many good friends in my network that are willing to be that voice for me. But then more importantly, saying, it is exhaus