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The Connection Between Service Design and Servant Leadership

How does a GT grad apply her United Nations internship experience to her current role as a Program Manager at Microsoft? A course on Servant Leadership taught by ILSI’s Dr. Bob Thomas helped Tammy VuPham make that connection.

Tammy VuPham, a current program manager at Microsoft, studied Service Design at the Georgia Tech College of Design from 2015-2019, which has really informed how she operates as a professional today. She started her collegiate journey as an International Affairs major and in the summer of 2017, Tammy earned a coveted internship experience at the United Nations (UN)! 

With the ultimate dream of affecting institutional-level change for the betterment of humanity, Tammy was excited by her opportunity to learn from and experience work at the UN. Following a busy summer where she had hands-on experience seeing policymaking processes and Member State meetings in action, she was excited to build on that momentum and gain skills at a more granular level. 

“Following my UN internship, I was connected with the Academic Advisor for the Georgia Tech School of Industrial Design. I started my second year of college by doubling up on design studios and found my way into service design. I realized through my design education that service design had a lot of similarities to policymaking in that it is incredibly user-focused. It really thinks about the ‘beneficiaries’ of a policy program or service and how changes to policy impact the livelihoods of these ‘beneficiaries’.”

The fall after her formative UN internship experience, Tammy not only embarked on her new degree trajectory, but she  also was connected with Professor Bob Thomas from the Institute of Leadership and Social Impact (ILSI). Through conversations with Bob, Tammy was thrilled to learn about and enroll in ILSI’s Servant Leadership course, which has been a course offering for 10 years now and is continuously a favorite elective for Georgia Tech students who are looking to develop unique leadership skills (learn more about Servant Leadership and ILSI here). Tammy was specifically interested in this course so that she could engage in deep and meaningful discussions with other students about how to drive sustainable social impact through their work both in the public and private sectors. This was a course and an opportunity for her to blend her passion for civil society and policy with that of business acumen and service design.  

“For me, Tech’s commitment to service was a huge reason that I chose to attend. It is such a huge part of who I am and what I do. Coming from an immigrant family - a family of refugees - service was always embedded in my upbringing. I was raised to believe that no matter what gifts you have, financially or other opportunities, you should work your hardest to return those gifts and pour them back into society. And that “Pay it Forward” mentality at Georgia Tech really has and continues to resonate with me.”

The opportunity to embrace her blended passions for service that she discovered through her coursework in Georgia Tech’s International Affairs, Industrial Design and ILSI programs helped pave the way for Tammy’s work today. 

“Functionally, I am a program manager at Microsoft, but because my particular team has no other designers, I wear two hats. In my role, I get to do the planning, but then I also get to work on the user experience of our product executions. My target users for the products and services I manage are 100,000+ Microsoft staff across the world, so it is crucial to practice empathy and servant leadership in our work to best meet the needs of our co-workers.”

Tammy encourages other Georgia Tech undergraduate and incoming students from all degrees to consider exploring civil society internships such as ones at the UN because they give you students opportunities to gain valuable learnings about a lane of work within the Impact Economy. She also underscores that it is crucial for students to  “keep your mind open” and that taking on “non-traditional internships” that are unpaid or that aren’t technically oriented gives students so much more depth and nuance in their professional development trajectories which is beneficial as they grow in their careers across sectors and organizations.

Tammy concluded our fireside chat by giving a nod to the value of working in the impact space as an intrapreneur within an organization like Microsoft. 

“Sometimes the impact [of a servant leader and intrapreneur] is quiet and sometimes the impact is, is not obviously seen, but, you know, at the end of the day that you have helped. And that is ultimately the goal of your work.” 

Thank you for your time and we are rooting for you Tammy as you continue in your journey!

The Institute for Leadership and Social Impact at Georgia Tech is an interdisciplinary institute that promotes servant leadership and organizational practices that contribute to a more just, caring, and equitable world. Learn more at https://www.scheller.gatech.edu/centers-initiatives/ile/index.html

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Nicole Little
Assistant Director of Operations