Kristen Chu is a 2021-2022 Fellow. Kristen grew up in Hong Kong and in Illinois. She attended University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and graduated with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Global Studies—Political Science.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

Total Solutions (TSI) is a small, family-owned Microsoft consulting firm located in Detroit. TSI consults for a wide range of organizations, from nonprofits and small local businesses to large, for-profit companies. The firm specializes in SharePoint, Power Platform, and custom app development.

In my role as a Client Success Associate, I support our Client Success Executives in managing external projects – acting as the point-of-communication between our clients and our development team, ensuring timely results on our builds, and keeping track of time and budget. As a member of the marketing team, I also create content for our social channels and keep our website up-to-date.

An in-person working session with my team!

Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on; what are you learning from the experience?

Our current project is a cohort-wide effort to create a data dashboard for our partner nonprofit, Brilliant Detroit, to further their mission of creating kid success neighbourhoods through the use of shared data. My team’s focus for this project is on creating a training toolkit and guide for internal staff, members, and ambassadors of Brilliant Detroit on best practices to view and utilize the dashboard. I am not only learning about the impactful work that Brilliant Detroit is doing across various neighbourhoods, but am also learning the importance of cross-communication between teams, the value of stakeholder insights, and, during every project that we work on, relearning to trust the design thinking process to bring our deliverables to life.

How do you hope to impact the community as a Fellow?

My role during our projects is to listen to our partners, stakeholders, and liaisons – those who have a deep understanding of, and experience within the communities we’re working alongside. I hope to impact the community by supporting our partner non-profits who, on their own, may not have the capacity to bring their vision to life. I hope to create solutions and offer recommendations that are practical and useful to move communities forward not because I think they’ll work, but because they’ve been tested and approved by our partners.

What are you most looking forward to as a Fellow this year?

I’m looking to further deepen my understanding and knowledge of Detroit as a city and a community, and to continue growing my friendships with those in my cohort! I’m also excited to see the final dashboard recommendations from all 8 teams at the end of our current partnership with Brilliant Detroit, and see how we were able to collaborate within our own team, as well as across teams, to deliver a cohesive, overarching project.

Leadership Friday: Visiting the DIA with Fellows

Since becoming a Fellow, what new skill/skills have you gained?

I’ve learned so much since becoming a fellow, but one skill that has impacted both my work on Challenge Fridays, and my job, is the importance of listening and empathizing before rushing into development/building. It takes patience, self-control, and trust to follow and fully execute each step of the Design Thinking process before moving onto the next, especially during the Empathy/Define phase. However, by listening to understand our stakeholders, not making assumptions before ideating, and being in the mindset that the individuals we’re building for know much more about the vision/goal than I ever could, is crucial to developing useful, impactful results.

If someone is reading this and considering applying to be a Fellow, share why you would encourage them to apply?

Not only has Challenge given me the opportunity to pivot into a new industry as a stepping stone for my career, this fellowship has also allowed me to connect and work with a cohort of talented individuals, partner with local nonprofits to help further their mission, and network with a diverse group of leaders in the Detroit area. I’d encourage anyone who’s looking for an opportunity to serve their community while furthering their professional experiences to apply!