Translating Extracurricular Experience Into Public Service Work: Joanna Calabrese

Joanna Calabrese, UVA ‘04, The Trevor Project 

“Playing club lacrosse at UVA taught me the importance of discipline, camaraderie, routines, and involving yourself with people who keep you accountable.” 

Our PSG CPE Maya chatted with alumni Joanna Calabrese to discuss how her time doing philanthropy work and playing a club sport at UVA shaped her professional path. 

While at UVA, Joanna participated in club lacrosse, AXO sorority, and several philanthropic events. With a passion for volunteering and working with people, as well as a degree from the McIntire School of Commerce, Joanna was excited to enter the working world as a consultant with Accenture in Washington, DC immediately after graduation. 

Sound familiar? The rest of Joanna’s story is a little different, though... 

Joanna loved the ‘people-side’ of consulting. In her limited free time, she pursued her greatest passion: volunteering. She jumped at every volunteering opportunity her company offered and worked with the UVA Club in DC and a homeless shelter in DC. After a couple of different consulting positions, Joanna found a way to tie together her experience and passion through corporate social responsibility with a law firm in LA. Corporate social responsibility helps a company be morally accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. CSR helps companies stay aware of the effect they have on economic, social, and environmental realms.  

Then, Joanna changed gears again to work directly with a nonprofit. Joanna worked for the Trevor Project in LA, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth. But, Joanna wanted an even more hands-on form of public service. So, with the money she had saved from almost 15 years of non-stop work, she took a 3-month break. She volunteered for All Hands and Hearts, a global, volunteer-powered disaster relief organization. When reflecting on her time volunteering with All Hands and Hearts, Joanna called it her form of higher education -- “there are ways to get higher education in the real-world and not spend money. There’s no straight path.” 

Joanna has held 5 positions in 15 years, changing paths from consulting, to corporate law, to nonprofit, to full-time volunteer work. She credits her time on club lacrosse as her reason for her ambition, drive, accountability, and success in the professional world. As a consultant, she used the management and efficient work-ethic she learned from her team sport on a daily basis. As a director of corporate social responsibility, Joanna held her colleagues and place of work accountable for its social impact, just as she would hold her college teammates accountable. While working for the Trevor Project, Joanna brought the fast-paced team-centered mentality into the office. 

An academic major is one of many facets of a student's experiences at UVA that shape who they become. For Joanna the skills she learned as an athlete and volunteer best prepared her for the different paths her career has taken. Her story highlights that so much of what we do can be transferred to other career paths if you make a strong enough case for it. Additionally, Joanna’s journey shows that this thread of service to others has always been consistent in her life and she felt her most authentic self when she was involved in this type of work.

Interested in learning more about Joanna's story or the work she has done? You can connect with her through Virginia Alumni Mentoring!