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Higher Education Advancement Option for Project Managers Print

Jim Ems slowly worked his way up in the aerospace sector of Northrop Grumman Corporation after completing his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1982. As he worked his way through the ranks of his company, he kept thinking that he wanted to challenge himself to continue his education.

He looked at options for continued education and completed a certificate program in project management at the University of California-Irvine. Yet, he felt like he needed to do more. Many of his co-workers had completed the certificate program, but no one was taking their education further. After some research, he learned that through a reciprocal agreement between the University of California-Irvine and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville he could actually transfer the credits earned in the certificate program towards a Master of Science in Project Management. He took advantage of the opportunity and now holds a master's degree.

Employment in the world of business is competitive. In the current competitive corporate environment, employees cannot simply graduate from college and expect a promotion every five years.

Employees need to distinguish themselves from their coworkers or new employees that could take higher level positions. Unfortunately, quality job performance for employees may not be enough to get the notice they need.

Others continually push themselves to be more productive and better at what they do. Some look to grow a deeper knowledge of their current skill set, while others look to expand their knowledge in other relevant areas.

One way employees can separate themselves from other workers is to gain an advantage through certifications.   One certification that has grown in popularity in the past few years is Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

With over 273,000 active management professionals now holding the PMP credential, the certification does not necessarily give employees a free ride to the job of their choice. Instead, this certification is one of the many tools contributing to a successful business career.

For many professionals, continued college education is a logical part of the continued knowledge growth for those with and those without the PMP designation. In the project management field, obtaining the Master of Science in Project Management indicates another level of professionalism and skill for an individual. Employers see the degree as an important aspect of an applicant's profile when comparing resumes.

Project management skills are unusual in that they can be adapted to a variety of specialized industries. Whether an engineer is managing a construction project, a computer programmer is overseeing the development of software or a marketing manager is rolling out a new product line, each person needs to be knowledgeable in their area of expertise. The company expects the project manager to have technical competencies, but it also expects a professional to have business functional skills to manage a project timeline and budget from start to finish.

D.W. (Bill) Haskins, program coordinator for the Master of Science in Project Management program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, stated that the focus of the master's degree is to provide professionals skilled in their own area the special competencies needed for project and general business management.

"A lot of students come in with technical degrees and resumes," Haskins said. "The idea is to create a broader range of experiences for a project manager than they would get by simply obtaining a PMP."

CJ Walker Waite, former president of the Washington D.C. PMI chapter, said the master's degree can help people who are not familiar with project management gain knowledge quickly, as opposed to the PMP which is designed for practicing project management professionals.

For those individuals already experienced in business, the degree can help them develop a stronger project management skill set that will allow for advancement.

Managers and those who have already reached the top of their discipline should not ignore the value of a master's degree. Productivity is important for any organization. Lessons learned years ago while obtaining a bachelors degree may no longer apply or may not represent the current state of the art. Advanced practitioners also can stay current on newer practices that may prevent those embarrassing moments when a fresh college graduate discusses new trends in the industry.

For many students, the coursework is not the only learning tool. Ems shared that the life experiences of classmates and professors was an important part of his program experience.

Networking and learning from other students is invaluable. In the business setting, professionals are many times very reluctant to share ideas with others. But a virtual classroom setting can often break down this barrier and provide important professional interaction that is not always possible in other venues.

Even PMI recognizes that passing of the PMP exam is not the end of a need for continued education and learning. By requiring 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every three years, PMI recognizes that it is also possible to improve and stay current.

The Master of Science in Project Management is also a way for PMPs to earn PDUs. For example, each three credit project management class taken through UW-Platteville earns 45 PDU units.

PDUs earned through a college course can provide more to an individual than just sitting through a session at a conference. Conference or professional training may or may not require a short exam, and the attendee does not complete much outside work. Master's program courses require much more in-depth analysis and critical thinking for a student to successfully complete the class.

The increased popularity of online degree programs has given working professionals a new opportunity to make a master's degree a feasible goal. Students can complete work on their own timelines through asynchronous classes. This means that while students still need to meet deadlines, they have more flexibility about when they complete work.

Students still maintain contact with professors and students through email, online discussions and group projects that may utilize group meetings via telephone or web conference. The classes bring together the skills and expertise of various regions and occupations that would not be possible with a campus classroom setting.

The virtual setting of classes provides experience for corporate projects completed with employees at more than one location. "We provide a platform that is conducive to working when everyone is not in the same room," said Haskins.  Students learn the challenges and advantages of online projects throughout their course studies.

 "The degree was more difficult than I expected," Ems said. "They are not giving away degrees. It was not easy but I think that was on purpose. When you get the degree, you know it was earned."

Earning a master's in project management brings together textbook learning, industry networking, learning led by experts and practical life experience. These skills can combine to enhance professionals looking to increase their job skills and be more successful in their industry.

Scott Skelly  (c) 2008

About the Author

Scott Skelly is a staff writer for the Distance Learning Center at UW-Platteville. He can be contacted at  (email address removed). For more information about programs offered through UW-Platteville visit www.uwplatt.edu/disted.

(All interviewed by writer via phone or in person)
Jim Ems
D.W. (Bill) Haskins,

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by farhan, March 08, 2010
nice simple for any user

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