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The Interchange: Katie Ervin

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.


Link to Podcast



Transcript:

(edited for clarity and content)


Matt

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.


Katie

Thanks so much.


Matt

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?


Katie

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.


Matt

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?


Katie

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?


Matt

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.


Katie

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.


Matt

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.


Katie

Yeah, I love that.


Matt

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?


Katie

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.


Matt

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.


Katie

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.


Matt

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?


Katie

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 exhausting for them, insert label here to be the spokesperson for that label. And so we say, Oh, we have a person of color. So let's, let's assume that they want to be the diversity officer, let's assume there's one person of color that they want to be, you know, on the platform, and they want to be seen, and they want to be heard, and they want to be genuinely understood.


But more importantly, we can't put all the pressure of their, you know, backgrounds, culture, you know, country, life, we can't put that weight on them. And that's the thing that I think I have learned so much in the last 18 months, is with their grace, same to me. We love you for coming to us and wanting to hear your voice. But we also cannot always be the poster for it. And so we need allies and others to make it safe to do that. And it's been a journey for someone who's always been very proud to say I want to hear every voice to know that there's more than I should have cleared up in the future will always do and that has great value.


Matt

Hmm, no, that's really interesting. My wife, she's from East Africa. But she's spent a lot of years growing up in Switzerland. So as a person of color being around a predominantly white society. She ran into this, you know, she was accepted and there was, I think there's a lot less racism in Europe than there is in the US. They don't really feel it like we do. But she did feel somewhat like an outsider, you know, of course, and her.


What she kind of says is, you know, as outsiders wherever you're an outsider, it's you always Feeling like you have to push to get in, you're trying so hard to get in to get in all the time. But it's less work if the insiders bring you in, right? Because I'm one person trying to reach out to many, but if there are many people trying to reach out to one, it makes it so much easier. So I thought that was an interesting insight from her.


Katie

Yeah, you know, that is such a good point. And just to put an exclamation on that, I was having lunch this past week with a friend. And he said to me, you know, as a black male, and he said, you know, Katie, when we look at a elementary school playground, if all the white kids were playing on the equipment and all of the children of color, were sitting on the benches not playing, we would say, Come on, come on, get together, what's good for kickball? Come on, let's do this.


But once we shift to the corporate world, we don't do that anymore. And why don't we and more importantly, you're right as, as the, you know, majority in the room, you know, as the white people in the room, we need to be more inclusive, and invite in. And I will tell you, I hear his voice all the time, because I was creating a leadership panel before the pandemic started. And I was so proud of the panel, and I was sharing it with him. And he said, Where's your black people? And I'm just like, oh, because we get so comfortable going within our network.


We need to be uncomfortable, and put ourselves into situations where we're the minorities. And so now when I walk into a room, you know, I look at the table and say, Where can I get different voices? Where can I hear about different experiences, I'm not going to sit at a table with people like me, because that's comfortable, I'm going to step out of my box and engage. But then more importantly, when we're looking at meetings or conversations, or, you know, even when we're planning workshops and conferences, you know, do we have our voices heard? You know, are we going outside for networking? Is it making ourselves uncomfortable, to ask people that are different than us to have a conversation that has great value?


Matt

I agree. Because not only is it the right thing to do, but as a human, but it's also you know, the more diverse people you have more diverse ideas you get, and so you have a better chance of coming up with a new and innovative idea. And you also have a better chance of seeing all those different possible roadblocks or risks out there. And that can, you know, prevent you from, from wasting time and money making mistakes.


Another thing I was just thinking about is, you know, when we take our kids to the playground, we kind of always push them, hey, go, go play with those other kids go play with those other kids. And I was thinking that what if, what if I, what someone did that to me, you know, hey, go go talk to this play with these people that you never met before? You know, I don't feel uncomfortable. And so now I realize, no, it's it should be I should be telling my kids. Hey, invite those kids to come play with you. Yeah,


Katie

yeah. Yeah. And, and even to the point of, you know, it's okay to be a little awkward at the beginning, you know, if there's positive intent behind it, you know, people, most people are gonna see that. And, you know, it's, it's a good thing.


Matt

Well, thank you, Katie, this has been a really great, great talk. Glad that we met. Do you have any, any final thoughts or advice that you would give others out there?


Katie

Yeah, no, it's my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me. And, and I would say, you know, the biggest piece of advice I would give is, you know, we always say be kind. But, but really, being kind means being authentic and being transparent. And, you know, sometimes having those difficult conversations from a very positive place. That is true kindness.


You know, when we open ourselves up to other people, it allows us to have deeper relationships and deeper understanding, and opens us up to other experiences. So not just be kind, but really open yourself up to that.


Matt

That's right. Yeah, take that extra step. Push yourself just to get out of your comfort zone, like you said, and, and, and try to reach out. Well, thank you again, very much, Katie, that was Katie urban, associate VP of strategic alliances at PARC University.


Katie

Thank you.







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