Travel: Orono, Maine

Although I grew up in New England, my family never quite reached the Maine border when we traveled, always stopping for camping adventures in New Hampshire. When my brother started attending University of Maine in Orono, I finally made a couple treks up north. In May, I flew to the East Coast to attend my brother’s graduation, and spend some good old quality time in his college town! Here are some of my favorites.

Time Spent: 5 days

The Adventure:

Orono Brewing Company & Nest

OBC is an awesome brewing company in downtown Orono that is small, but mighty. We loved our time there drinking a flight of nice brews, and laughing endlessly over one of their retro trivia games. My other favorite location on the main strip in Orono is their coffee shop – Nest. I went there twice! I would definitely be a regular there if I was a UMaine student.

Acadia National Park & Bar Harbor

Acadia National Park – check! Another National Park added to the list, and it didn’t disappoint. We drove a little more than an hour from Orono to see the sweeping views of mountains and the sea, did a quick hike (got to love those classic New England Trails), and spent some time in downtown Bar Harbor. A couple foodie highlights for us were the clam chowder and lobster rolls at the Thirsty Whale, and Black Raspberry ice cream at Ben & Bills Chocolate Emporium.

The Bog Walk

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A favorite excursion of ours during our time in Maine this year was checking out the Bog Walk, which is a one mile wetland trail that is peaceful, uncrowded, and beautiful. It’s perfect for a little day retreat with a friend, or even a solo walk to clear your mind and be in nature.

Our trip to main can be summarized by the notable quote: “Maine. The way life should be.”

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Travel: Campinas, Brazil

It’s time for a very overdue and wonderful reflection about my nine day trip to Brazil this Spring. For me, the trip came quickly after committing to make the journey, and somewhere in between came two months of preparation and fundraising, which went as smooth as can be! Unlike other trips that I’ve blogged about, this one was unique in the sense that it was not by any means a vacation – it was a service trip and an opportunity to enrich the lives of the children, students, and professionals that we encountered.

Time Spent: 9 days

The Adventure: 

As I write, it’s hard to know where to begin. My first trip to South America was an amazing and remarkable experience that I will never forget. Normally I have some sort of expectations as to what my travels will bring, but with Brazil I went in with open eyes, an open heart, and no expectations which allowed me to be fully in the moment.

Volunteering at the City of Youth through Hope Unlimited for Children included multiple photography projects for their marketing department, painting one of the homes that 12 children live in, spending time with staff to encourage them in their efforts, and celebrating the children in a variety of ways. One of my favorite evenings from our trip was our birthday party celebration for kids that had birthdays which fell between January and March of this year. Did you know that many of the children that live in the impoverished communities have never been celebrated? Could you imagine not celebrating or not even knowing your own birthday? We made this a celebration of epic proportions – $5 to pick out your candy, popcorn and soda watching Bella e Terra (Beauty and the Beast), ice cream, and a special dinner at the mall afterwards. We loved spoiling these kids!

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When I think about the most impressive part of the trip, I remember being so amazed at the scope of what they do at the City of Youth – from housing 110 children, to hosting vocational courses, to providing physical, emotional, and spiritual therapy to the 3-18 year olds who live there. The staff and leadership at this organization and phenomenal and SO compassionate towards these children. Often times hearing their stories made us emotional, but I find that moments like that were what brought us together.

We refrain from posting any photos of the children from the organization to social media because they are considered at-risk youth. Otherwise, I would love to share more photos of the kids I photographed during my time in Brazil. For anyone who is interested in learning more about my trip, or to gain access to my private share of photos, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Why Culture Always Wins

During my three years at Dell EMC, we have consistently achieved “Best Place to Work” status, and recently Dell Technologies has been named one of LinkedIn’s Top Companies of 2017. For me, the driving factor in this success is our emphasis on company culture. As a new company, I credit the efforts that our leadership and transformation teams have placed on creating a foundational culture code.

One of the best articles that I’ve read about Dell’s “Culture Code” is What Makes a Company Great? Culture is Key by Dell’s Chief HR Officer, Steve Price.

“As a company that recently closed one of the biggest tech mergers in history with EMC, we made listening a top priority as we looked to unify our company culture as part of the new Dell Technologies. We turned our collective ears toward team members from both former Dell and EMC to define our corporate culture as the driver of how we run the business, go to market, work effectively together and provide inspirational leadership.”

As both a communicator and a team member at Dell EMC, watching the communications unfold to promote our culture code has been amazing, and our internal communications team has done a great job.

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I’ve really appreciated the way that our culture code is organized because it is easy to embed into the communications I craft for the Chief Technology Officer and his team. For example, at quarterly All Hands meetings we are able to dedicate time to connecting our major wins to our fives values that you see above, which makes the direct connection between the work that people do, and the organizational culture.

In his most recent Direct2Dell article, Steve Price addresses the importance of effective leadership development in the area of supporting and inspiring company culture. He says that it is expected for leaders to embed these values into the way they run their business units, and I couldn’t agree more. In the end, if our leaders and team members are in, our customers are in, and then we all #GoBigWinBig!

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What’s New in the Communicationsphere

As many of you know, I’m a big Twitter user. I practically use it every day to learn more about my industry, my peers, and what’s going on in this big world of ours. I’ve found a huge benefit in using Twitter to stay up to date on the pulse of corporate communications, and I often re-tweet articles or blog posts that I find interesting. Allow me to share a few of the golden nuggets I’ve found while scrolling through my feed recently:

“5 Keys to Engaging Corporate Culture” by Jacob Morgan at Inc.com

The author in this article gives kudos to CEO James White from Jamba Juice, a well known and refreshing chain store just minutes from my office, who has embedded a strong culture within the company that has lasted through tumultuous times. Two of the five key ways that you build a strong culture are communicating from the top down, and actively engaging your community. I believe it is crucial for communicators to have a seat at the leadership table, and I’ve seen a lot of great employee campaigns come to fruition at my company because of this. We even have our culture code listed as an FY’18 objective as a company! I can imagine, however, that there are some companies out there where communicators might not have a seat at the table, and the challenges that they would face as a result of that. From experience, it is SO SO SO important that leadership is onboard with corporate communication strategy. Otherwise, you cannot expect a strong and engaged community.

“How Every Internal Communicator Can Be a Rockstar” by Alison Davis on LinkedIn

In this article written by Davis & Company’s CEO Alison Davis, internal communicators are encouraged to rise above and become rockstars. With a few of her helpful tips, she suggests that you can become a rockstar communicator by:

  • Channeling the characteristics of a rock star.
  • Using evidence to make your case.
  • Sharing best practices.
  • Changing the conversation from tactical to strategic.
  • Focusing on outcomes.
  • Not letting setbacks get you down.
  • Measuring your results.

“The Workplace is the New Corporate Communications Platform”

Intriguing title, wouldn’t you say? This article by WorkDesign Magazine is about eBay, and the gorgeous renovations they’ve completed at their headquarters in California including touchscreen walls, natural light, unique installations, and more. They claim, “These dynamic experiences not only invite guests to engage with the company’s story; they also help transform the eBay workforce into a connected, empowered community.” One of the tips they suggested for starting your own workplace transformation that really made me think was to use your company data to bring your brand to life. Reading this gave me some really great ideas about implementing more data into my own communication programs.

“Communications 2006 v.s. 2016”

If you’re looking for a good laugh, and a trip down memory lane, read this short article and remember the times when social media didn’t exist, there was no such thing as internal communications, and smartphones weren’t a thing!

If you’re interested in more articles like these, give me a follow at @beckyykurtz.

STEM & The Tech Challenge

For me, living in Silicon Valley and working for Dell EMC has opened my eyes to the importance of a STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For a long time I have been impressed with the intelligence of my peers, especially because I am in the minority with a “Bachelor of Arts” degree. What’s impressive about the valley is the vast amount of technology companies in a matter of miles. I was curious, so I looked up how many tech companies are in the town in which I work, and the answer is 1,104. In this area, a STEM education is crucial.

Growing up, I personally did not excel in STEM – my academic strengths were always History and English, never Physics and Math. That’s why, when I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Silicon Valley Tech Museum‘s annual event “The Tech Challenge,” I was very impressed with the students and their strengths in this area. You may be asking, what is the Tech Challenge?

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This signature program of The Tech invites teams of students in Grades 4-12 to use the engineering design process to solve a real-world problem. Participants spend months collaborating and becoming deeply engaged in the challenge while documenting their progress and designs. The program culminates in a thrilling two-day showcase in April when teams put their solutions to the test in front of judges.

Although I was only a volunteer, I was able to see hundreds of children using their STEM education in an amazing aways. What’s even more exciting is that so many of these students were girls! The challenge this year was “Rock the Ravine” – design and build a device to help explorers cross an ice field with multiple ravines. It was a competition like I’ve never seen before with 2,500 students, 55 program sponsors from the valley, and hundreds of corporate volunteers. My company, Dell, is the presenting sponsor for the Tech Challenge and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved this year as the Dell company ambassador. This involved sitting in on a few board fundraising meetings, communicating about the challenge within Dell, asking for volunteers, and working with our VIP executive judges.

I’ve really enjoyed working in the technology industry because, although my course of study did not take me through Engineering training, I’ve been able to become a part of the tech community and encourage the next generation to pursue a STEM education.

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My husband and I volunteering at the Tech Challenge – two rivaling tech companies coming together to support STEM education for students!

Travel: Central & South Florida

When we decided to fly out to North Carolina in February I insisted that we end our trip laying on the beach in Miami. I knew that the sunshine would outweigh any unfortunate weather we would encounter the days before. Luckily for us, the weather was (almost) perfect on our trip! Because we spent some extra time in Charleston, SC, we ended up sacrificing most of our time in Savannah, GA and it became a brief stop for lunch. We dined at Soho South Cafe and ate some delicious peach cobbler! You must eat something with peaches when you drive through Georgia. The Savannah History Museum was the only sight we were able to visit before we were on the road again.

Time Spent: 4 days

The Adventure: 

Ocala was our first stop in Florida, where we spent the night with a friend and woke up early in the morning to swim with MANATEES! It was an incredible experience, and I’m so sad there are no photos or videos to prove it! Everything was extremely wet on our tour at Crystal River, but we had a blast swimming down river canals with these enormous creatures! I mean, how often can someone say they swam with manatees? Very cool. Other stops on our trip through Central Florida included Universal Studios, dinner at Tanners to try some fried gator, and  a stop at the local micro brewery in Winter Haven. We were so lucky to visit with some of our best friends on this trip to Florida, too!

One of our mornings called for some fresh squeezed Florida orange juice before the long drive to Miami, the last leg of our journey, and it was the perfect way to end our central Florida experience.

In Miami we stayed at an Air BnB in North Beach which was embedded into a neighborhood with plenty of local cuisine. And I’m talking about Cuban, Argentine, Peruvian, and Columbian. Our favorite food experience in Miami was breakfast at Sazon’s Cuban Cuisine, which was a quick 3 blocks away from where we were staying. We actually ate breakfast there twice because of their DELICIOUS Cafe con Leche. I also really enjoyed their breakfast and how they were right next to the beach – the perfect ingredients for a lovely beach day.

Another highlight for us was doing Jet Boat Miami, a not-your-average boat tour of Miami including high speeds, twists, turns, and loud music. I loved how we were able to get a 360 view of Miami, and see where celebrities like Ricky Martin and Will Smith have vacation homes.

We were very sad to leave Miami, and our amazing 8 day road trip. There were so many amazing memories that were made on this trip, and although all good things must come to an end we look forward to the next adventure.

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PS – Have you seen the video of our trip yet? Click here.

Travel: Charleston, SC

Words cannot describe my love for Charleston, South Carolina. It was an unexpected love – I suppose I did not know much about this city going in to our time there. The gorgeous colors, the charming homes, the oceanside views, the cuisine – all perfection.

Time Spent: 1.5 days

The Adventure: We spent 3.5 hours driving to Charleston from Raleigh, and when we arrived downtown I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car and get walking. The downside to road trip life is that we were starving when we arrived, so we walked to a restaurant called Magnolia’s and ordered some of their most popular dishes – Shrimp & Grits and a Cuban sandwich. I never recall eating grits before, so this was a first for me, and WOW was it delicious paired with lobster butter sauce, shrimp, and scallops. To die for!

With full stomachs we proceeded to walk around the downtown area, pausing for lot’s of photos at Rainbow Row, the oceanside park, and the  little neighborhoods nearby. I think I must have walked at least 6 miles that day with wide eyes taking in all of my surroundings. I think the photos below can speak for themselves as to the magical place that is Charleston, SC. Did I mention the weather was absolutely gorgeous and warm that day?

We were lucky enough to stay with some family on John’s Island, SC – a quaint little island town with the perfect backdrop to raise a family. Our relatives took us for a night out on the town at High Cotton, and little historical late night tour of Charleston where we visited some famous streets and sights together (many of them believed to be haunted).

The next day we had a full agenda as we made the choice to stay in Charleston a few extra hours and sacrifice the time at our next stop. For those of you who know me well, you know I love myself a great cup of tea, so it will not come as a surprise when I tell you how we started our next morning – the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island which is the only tea plantation located in the United States. We enjoyed a nice trolley tour during which we learned about the tea process, and don’t forget the endless tea samples! Of course, my husbands favorite was the sweet tea.

Next, we switched from tea to vodka. When I was researching what to do in the area prior to our trip, I stumbled across the Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka distillery, and was extremely curious. To get to Firefly you had to drive down gorgeous windy roads with trees unlike any variety we have in CA. Upon arrival we met with a barista, and sampled 6 of their different alcohols including Sweet Tea Vodka, White Lighting Moonshine (100 proof), and Lemonade Vodka.

Overall, Charleston was a huge blessing, and I can’t wait to go back and rent a house on the beach there some day!

PS – Last week I made a little video of our road trip that you can see on my Facebook here.