Olivia Coletta ’21 is Head of Engagement at Caraway, which provides mental, physical, and reproductive health services and support for people ages 18+, with a focus on women and individuals assigned female at birth. She recently shared some insights with Duke I&E about how her experiences at Duke have shaped her career journey so far.
Tell us about your work with Caraway. What do you like most about your current role, and how do you innovate in your work?
Caraway has truly been the most amazing place to work and grow over the past year. For some background, Caraway offers all of the healthcare college students need, 24/7, from their phones. This could be related to anxiety and depression, birth control, COVID-19, or anything in between. By far the most meaningful part of my role is getting to contribute to the growth of a company with a mission I really believe in—my friends and I faced many challenges accessing the healthcare support we needed in college during what was really a developmentally critical time. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to change things for college students now.
On top of that, I’m lucky to be in a role that exposes me to many aspects of our business and allows me to grow exponentially. I work largely on our campus programming and member engagement—I love spending my day working with college students to get the word out about Caraway organically and think about how we can better engage those who come through Caraway’s doors. As far as how I innovate, every single day we are getting feedback on our programs, marketing campaigns, and engagement tactics to see how we can improve. We then make those changes so we can continue to grow Caraway and better serve our members. Thinking about how we can improve Caraway is one of the best parts of my job.
While at Duke, you were in the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program and the I&E Certificate program. What were your highlights and biggest takeaways from those programs?
Oh, there are so many! I think the I&E Certificate program really allowed me to take all of my coursework and learn how to apply it in the real world. Ultimately, school is one part of your life, and then you graduate and need to know how to operate in a job. I think the I&E Certificate set me up really well to be thinking about how to leverage my coursework post-Duke.
Classes like the Keystone with Kathie Amato, Customer Empathy and Brand Design with Brad Brinegar, and an Independent Study with Howie Rhee and Steve McClelland rank at the top of my list. I draw on those learnings every day at work. The Student Founder Program and the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs Program were two of my all-time highlights at Duke. The opportunity to have the space and time to learn how to have an entrepreneurial mindset in your everyday life through analyzing problems as you walk through the world was such a gift. And then to learn how to architect a solution through obsessing over your user and understanding them really has informed how I approach working at a startup. Being 21 years old and getting to start your own venture with Duke’s resources is an unparalleled experience.
How have Melissa & Doug, the I&E Certificate, and other Duke programs and experiences shaped your career path?
While at Duke I was largely involved with Duke I&E and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. I like to think I sit at the intersection of those disciplines today—innovating to create a meaningful solution to a pressing problem affecting the quality of life of many people. I learned through Duke I&E that I needed a career that allowed me to be very creative and active. I like to think big! The Kenan Institute helped me to realize that to me, my job was also a significant portion of my life’s work—what I would leave behind. I didn’t want my job, if I could help it, to just be what supported me. It needed to have a positive impact. Caraway fulfills both of these desires.
In what ways did Duke prepare you for life at a startup—and what have you had to learn on your own?
I think Duke gave me all of the soft skills needed to work in a startup—like learning to be a self-starter, have a solution-oriented attitude, and have confidence and faith in myself. Every day at work, I am faced with a task that neither I nor anyone else at the company knows how to accomplish, and I have to figure it out. Duke I&E gave me the mindset to be able to do this work. On the job, I’ve had to learn to work under pressure. Duke I&E gives a lot of space and time to be creative—which is awesome! Enjoy the privilege of getting to sit and ponder and create. But in startup life, you have to think quickly and generate results. It’s not a thought exercise, and there is always urgency. I’ve had to adapt to this while at Caraway.
How else have your Duke experiences and network supported your journey so far?
Funny enough, I was actually introduced to our amazing CEO, Lori Evans Bernstein, through a Duke alum I met at Duke Women’s Weekend. I am constantly astounded by how generous Duke alumni are. I also have had so many supportive professors and mentors from Duke, including Howie Rhee, Matt Nash, Kathie Amato, and Anna Jacobs from Duke I&E and Bill Tobin formerly at the Kenan Institute for Ethics who have served as amazing mentors. I really encourage students to get to know their peers, professors, and alumni, as everyone is so incredibly remarkable and there is so much to learn from them, both on a personal and professional level.