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We are excited to introduce Kara McElvaine, a Senior Program Manager on our team! We took some time to learn more about Kara, the passion for equity and diversity she brings to our projects, and how she creates joy at work and in her life.


What is your name, title, and what departments do you work in?

I’m Kara McElvaine, and I’m a Senior Program Manager at Shift. I’m currently leading the design phase of both the College Advising Reach and Effectiveness project and the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Math Change Package Development project. Both projects seek to move the needle on important education outcomes for BIPOC and low-income students across the country, such as perceived relevance of their math classes, and matriculation to well-matched post-secondary options. I also have the privilege of supporting our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging 10% internal team.

What’s different about the way Shift works?

Shift is the most collaborative workplace I’ve ever been part of. That often means Shift products, whether it’s a toolkit or slides for a design meeting, don’t feel ‘complete’ without collaboration. This was a bit of a pivot for me as someone who often goes off on my own and makes things, but it makes our work richer and stronger. I see it as part of my role as a leader in the organization to create clarity about the ‘who/what/how’ of our collaboration.

Do you apply improvement methods to your life? If so, how?

Sort of! I use 90-day projects in my personal and professional goal setting. I read a book called The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian R. Morgan in 2015, and I’ve been doing my own version of that system since then to make some of my lifetime aspirations more achievable. This system breaks down goals into three-year and annual goals, and then breaks them down into much tinier quarterly (i.e., 90-day) projects/goals. I try to make quarterly goals something gratifying to achieve, like run a 5K, while also connecting to a lifetime aspiration, like exercising regularly. I review my process data weekly on Friday mornings. Am I too much? Maybe. But do I live intentionally? I think so.

Which Shift principle resonates the most with you?

Create Joy is resonating with me the most right now. There are a lot of aspects of professional culture that tell you not to belly laugh in the middle of a meeting, or that it’s not okay to deviate from formal social scripts at work. I think it’s revolutionary to approach making the world better by leading with joy and a light heart.

How do your past experiences positively impact your work at Shift?

Some of my early professional experiences involved designing and testing micro-interventions on the ground in Boys and Girls clubs and in school yards with Playworks. I’m so grateful for those experiences, because they helped me grasp what it takes to do small scale testing well in messy contexts. This is really helpful grounding for me when creating and supporting networks of folks doing that amazing and messy work, day-in and day-out.

What is your hidden talent?

These are more passions than talents, but I am a yoga teacher and working towards a PhD in Human Development and Family Sciences. With yoga, I get a lot of joy out of creatively sequencing classes that open people up in all the ways. As a PhD student at Oregon State University, I’m trying to understand the effects of school diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging interventions on the identity development and classroom practices of teachers. I’m hoping to have some interesting things to say on this topic by 2025.

What type of music is on your current playlist?

A delightfully random combination of Vance Joy, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, the Glitch Mob, and David Bowie.  I am not a good singer, but any of these folks can get me singing I will even “sing” the electronica.

What’s your favorite sport/sports team?

I liked playing soccer when I was growing up—it was my first job as a referee—but as of late I root for whoever my partner is rooting for to not bring down the household vibe. Usually that’s Virginia Tech football and basketball. Go Hokies!

What was the last book you read?

Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

I want to learn how to throw pottery—and I’m doing it this summer! As a rule, if I wistfully think “wouldn’t it be cool if…” more than one time, I am probably going to take steps to make it happen.

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