When I first joined Hogan Lovells in July 2015, I was excited by the prospect of becoming part of a firm with a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. During the interview process, the firm’s recruiter spoke to me about a 25-hour citizenship policy through which I would be encouraged to dedicate at least 25 of my work hours each year toward a firm-sponsored community service activity. So when I got settled in the office, I searched the citizenship opportunity board for an activity that seemed like a good fit.
I was drawn to a listing for “GeoPlunge Coaching at Kimball Elementary” – a project that was also in need of a team leader. I had no idea what GeoPlunge was, but I was eager to be bold and give it a try, so I volunteered to take a leadership role in coordinating the project. We met with GeoPlunge creator, Alan Fishel, to receive our official training and with the contact at our partner school – and then we were ready to greet our pupils!
For many of us, this was an introduction to our partner school Kimball Elementary. We were able to witness the enthusiasm and potential of these students who were often considered at-risk members of the community. Through our GeoPlunge coaching, as with many of our citizenship endeavors, we were not only able to learn of the struggles our fellow community members face, but we were able to work with the students toward a more hopeful future. Students who began with little to no knowledge of the subject matter became increasingly proud of their achievements with each hand they won in the GeoPlunge games. Learning became fun and rewarding.
As lessons continued, we saw the students growing in their knowledge of U.S. geography – and we found ourselves equally growing as an eager, engaged, problem-solving, unit. Our volunteer coaches were a compilation of different departments across the firm, but through addressing the GeoPlunge challenge together, we were able to form strong relationships, take ownership of a firm project, and witness our direct impact on the community and our firm. As the tournament neared, we were ready to share these benefits with our colleagues by telling our story and recruiting others to become monitors and scorekeepers for the day of the tournament.
I received recognition from the firm in July 2016 in the form of a “Leadership Behavior Award” for my work with GeoPlunge and was met with the question, “why you?” My job title of “Assistant” does not generally go hand in hand with the label, “leader,” so a few of my coworkers were understandably surprised. However, our firm’s citizenship program gives employees at all levels the opportunity to take on leadership roles. Organizations with a strong sense of social responsibility ask each employee “why not you?” I was able to develop my leadership skills by organizing an internal team, creating lesson plans to guide that team, conducting training sessions, and managing relationships with the school and with the GeoPlunge organization. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to delegate and call on others within our volunteer ranks to take on leadership roles as two pregnancies and corresponding maternity leaves required me to take a more hands-off approach. I could not be more proud of the results as GeoPlunge continually reveals hidden leadership skills of our colleagues.
Two years later, it is clear how Hogan Lovells’ citizenship program and the GeoPlunge Tournament are perfect partners. Within the firm, interest in GeoPlunge runs high. In my tenure, we’ve had four coaching seasons and tournaments, with up to 16 coaches volunteering per season and up to 50 monitors and scorekeepers per tournament. The GeoPlunge Tournaments are now habitually filled with green and black Hogan Lovells citizenship t-shirts, the standard attire for our global volunteer activities. I regularly receive e-mails or am stopped in the hall by volunteers who want to make sure their name is on our roster for the next tournament. Here are a few responses I received from colleagues:
- “This was my second time volunteering as a game table monitor and it was fun watching these young elementary school students grow in their knowledge of geography and strategy.”
- “On Monday night and Tuesday morning, I was quite intimidated by all the rules and scoring. I am glad I went, enjoyed the kids, enjoyed the event and look forward to their future events.”
- “I love being a monitor at the GeoPlunge tournament as I find volunteering with children so rewarding.”
- “I have to say that I actually had a good time (if you knew me and my general relationship to kids you would realize what a radical statement that is). I am certainly up for this next year.”
Our enthusiasm and hard work have not gone unnoticed. In May 2017, the firm recognized our GeoPlunge coaches, monitors, and scorekeepers for their outstanding service to the community with a donation to GeoPlunge in our honor. It was a proud day for all of our volunteers, who are already eagerly planning and anticipating the Fall 2017 GeoPlunge Tournament.
Margaret Zhang is an Assistant at the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, DC and is an active GeoPlunge coach and mentor.