Plans Change, Opportunities Arise: Kerstin’s StarTech.com Story

Facilitated by Devin Gordon, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

My name is Kerstin Newman and I am 27 years old. I am German and spent the first 22 years of my life in Germany. Growing up, I always wanted a job where I could help people…in what way, I didn’t really care at the time. I used to envy people who knew exactly what they wanted to become and what they had to do to get there as I never had any specific plans. I was never confident in my abilities and didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue. I just knew I wanted to work with people my age or kids. So after graduating high school, I went to university to study German and English in the teaching program for German high schools (Grades 5-12).

During those university years, I went on an exchange and spent a year at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, where I completed my Master’s degree in German Studies. While everybody thought it was kind of strange that I left Germany to do an M.A. in German Studies in an English speaking country, I loved the experience of living in a different country, speaking English on a regular basis, but still studying German on the same level I would have back home.

I went back to Germany for 2 years after the exchange and completed my teaching degree at the University of Mannheim.  I knew at the time that I wanted to come back to Canada, especially since I had met my now husband (he is Canadian) in the German program at Waterloo. I knew the teaching job situation in Ontario was not great.  Also, the schools would not recognize my German teaching degree but would make me go back to teacher’s college, so I decided to switch careers while I was still in Germany. I did an internship at a John Deere facility in Mannheim, in the HR department for training and development. While the job was challenging at times (I had not really worked in office environments before), I loved what I did there, being exposed to people from all over the world, working with different people on different projects, being creative in scheduling, training or making materials available for people. My boss at the time was very supportive and connected me with the John Deere office in Brantford, Ontario, to see if they potentially had room for me. Since the office deals with all the finances, this didn’t work out, but the support of my boss encouraged me to pursue a career where I could do similar things to what I did at John Deere.

I decided to go to Fanshawe College for International Business Management to have better chances of finding a job with an international business. The program was only 8 months long and a post-graduate degree. While I was still a student at Fanshawe, they held a job fair in February and I talked to some people that represented businesses in London. One of the people I talked to ended up hiring me as a bilingual customer service advisor for StarTech.com after my graduation in April 2014. I started working in July 2014 and after completing the job training, I answered phones, chats, and emails for German and English speaking customers.

While customer service was never on my radar, I actually really enjoyed working with the team to help customers, talking to tons of different people all day, and learning new things every day. In April 2015, I was promoted to the role of team lead, meaning that I now am part of the leadership team for the customer service department. While I still talk to customers occasionally, I am now more involved in the operational reports, coaching people, and several projects designed to improve systems and processes.

My typical day is hard to describe as there are never two days that are the same. My main responsibility is to do some reporting on the teams’ performance the previous day in the morning, and then just be available for whatever questions the customer service advisors may have throughout the day. These might be process related, content questions, or system related, so most of the time, I function as a subject matter expert on anything regarding customer service. I approve one-off exceptions we might make for customers, I help advisors help customers in the best way possible, I try to help advisors succeed in their roles, and I am a point of contact for other departments that might have questions about customer service.

I love that every day is different. I love working with the people on the team.  I love being able to help people (the advisors and other departments within the company, and customers that buy our products). I love the challenges I encounter every day (figuring out an Excel formula, pulling meaningful statistics out of a mess of data, talking to people about odd customer situations that we need to figure out, etc.). I love being involved in cross-functional projects that will eventually help our customers have a better experience dealing with StarTech.com as a company. I love the support and encouragement I get from my colleagues and superiors, and I love the company in general for its culture and work environment.

While this is not at all the career (or the life – for that matter) that I ever thought I would have, I really enjoy working and living in Canada. When I was starting university at the age of 19, I was sure I would be a teacher for German and English at a high school somewhere in Germany by the age of 25. Instead, I am the team lead of a customer service team at a tech company in Canada at 27. Plans change and opportunities will come up that we never thought we would consider. I am absolutely happy with my career so far and I am sure there will be more planned and unplanned changes in the future.  I have learned to embrace change and unforeseen circumstances and to make the best of any situation not only in regards to my work life, but also as it relates to my personal life. 

Healing Waters

by Carol Crenna

Chelsea Kanstrup (BCom ’12) is in for the long haul. Three years ago, Kanstrup started with the privately -funded charity Mercy Ships as a cooperative student. After graduating, her dedication and passion were recognised and she was hired as director of Donor Relations.  

In fact, working in non-profit management was one of her goals when choosing UVic’s BCom program. Business Class caught up with Kanstrup to find out about Mercy Ships and why she decided to embark on the voyage.

What Does This Organization Do?

Mercy Ships is a privately-funded charity that sends hospital ships with medical teams to impoverished countries to provide free medical care, physician training, and community support. It has 16 global offices including Mercy Ships Canada, based in Victoria. Its Africa Mercy is the world’s largest charity hospital ship, staffed by 1,600 volunteers from around the world.  

How Has It Made a Difference?

In existence for 35 years, Mercy Ships has treated 572,000 patients in 54 countries, conducted 67,000 surgeries, delivered services to over 2.42 million, valued at over $1 billion. It serves people free-of-charge without regard for race or religion.

Why Was It Launched?

Mercy Ships was started by an American Christian group to serve the estimated one billion people who lack basic healthcare, particularly in Africa, where 50 percent of the population has no access to a doctor. The organization deemed that a ship is the most efficient platform to deliver a state-of-the-art hospital because 75 per cent of the world’s population lives within 150 kilometres of a port city.

What Results Have You Seen?

When in Congo, I saw a blind mother being led by her young daughter to the ship to have cataract surgery. After surgery, she regained her sight, which resulted in her daughter attending school, no longer having to care for her mother, and her mother getting a job to support the family and become a better community member.

I witnessed one-on-one training. In Congo, a doctor from Togo came for cataract surgery training. Before the instruction, it took him 20 minutes to do each surgery; he performed 400 surgeries per year (in 2010). After training, he could complete the procedure in 10 minutes, and this year he performed 2,000 cataract surgeries. He now voluntarily teaches other surgeons.

What Are You Working On?

My third-party fundraising work includes bake sales, discount coupon books, and collaborating with restaurants that donate money from a menu item purchased — small outlets that have added up to substantial funding over time. We also organize campus networks at 11 universities across Canada with hundreds of student volunteers.

Africa Mercy is heading to Cotonou, Benin, where volunteers plan to do over 2,300 surgeries, treat 18,000 at dental and eye clinics, and train 160 Beninois healthcare professionals.

Why Is Philanthropy Important?

It was instilled in me not to take for granted that I was born a woman within a supportive family within a supportive community within a supportive country. It’s not just right to be philanthropic and help others; it makes you feel good.

What appeals to you about working for Mercy Ships?

I love Mercy Ship’s mission; helping so many individuals in need through surgeries is amazing, yet educating individuals increases the capacity of our efforts, and works to stop the need itself. 

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Business Class Magazine, a publication of the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria.