Juliana Alfonso, like many seniors, fervently looked forward to her graduation date at the end of the summer of 2019. Leaving Georgia Tech was not an unmixed pleasure for the Neuroscience B.S., however. Juliana will miss her friends on campus, her faculty mentors, and, of course, the delicious and affordable cafeteria food (ok, well maybe not that last one). One of the most difficult things to leave behind has been her involvement in team training, a topic in which she’s developed considerable expertise over the last three years.
Since 2016, Juliana has been deeply involved in the Effective Team Dynamics (ETD) initiative, a program funded by a large Strategy Plan Advisory Group grant in 2015. Juliana describes herself as the “student assistant” of Mary Lynn Realff, the head of the ETD initiative, but this title doesn’t begin to capture the extent of her involvement. From scheduling meetings, to facilitating workshops, to gathering curriculum resources, her organizational skills and calm, cheerful presence have deeply informed the image and impact of ETD across Georgia Tech’s campus and beyond.
Juliana explains her multifaceted role within the initiative through the analogy of soccer – she is ETD’s mid-fielder because “the mid-fielder is critical to get the ball from one side of the field to the other so that forwards can score. The mid-fielders score the goals sometimes and play defense sometimes, but mostly their job is to transfer the ball from the defenders to the forwards.” Juliana’s role was to facilitate the crucial transfer of the ideas generated in brainstorming sessions to reality. Her expertise in implementation means that she has left her mark on almost everything ETD has done in the past three years. Now in its fourth year, ETD has involved over 800 faculty members and 5000 students across all six of Georgia Tech’s academic units.
One of Juliana’s favorite roles has been that of workshop facilitator. Using curriculum developed in-house at Georgia Tech and built on tools such as CliftonStrengths and the Johari Window, she has led her fellow students from first-year composition to senior design classes in identifying their strengths and becoming more effective team members. In addition to a new skillset, she teaches them her underlying philosophy: to solve a problem, teammates need a shared language to notice and define as many elements of the problem as possible, and they need to lean on the expertise and strengths of other team members to find solutions.
She summarized her experience in these words:
“I’ve learned that people of all backgrounds and beliefs can come together to work towards a common goal and be very successful if they take the time to ‘speak the same language’ and define expectations at the outset.”
Goodbye and best of luck to you, Juliana!