Project management student says curriculum reflects real-world business environment – and has helped her advance in the marine engineering industry.

Penny Sweda has always liked to plan and schedule, as well as work with people, both in her personal and work life.

Today, Sweda not only uses those skills in the marine engineering industry to coordinate renovations of sailors' quarters on U.S. Navy ships, she's enhancing them by pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration with a specialization in project management program at Saint Leo.

Project management program leads to job promotion

Sweda works for Marine Systems Corporation (MSCorp), a small business specializing in marine engineering, design, planning, and maintenance. She is part of the company's habitability program team, a group that conducts projects to improve living conditions on ships.

"The program is designed to attain and maintain living standards for sailors aboard ships. We look at existing conditions in habitability spaces, and then redesign and upgrade them," Sweda says.

Sweda's ideal job at MSCorp is to become a project manager, and since returning to school, she is one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

Just a few months after enrolling in Saint Leo's project management program, Sweda was promoted from mechanical designer to project coordinator.

Making a difference in sailors' lives

A typical day for Sweda in her new position involves sending confirmation notices for ship checks to designers, briefing ship personnel on necessary upgrades, explaining renovation details to contractors, scheduling meetings with designers, and more.

"I do a lot of scheduling, long-range budgets and financials, milestone tracking, and project tracking."

While Sweda enjoys all aspects of her job as project coordinator -- particularly working with customers --  knowing that her efforts are making military personnel more comfortable when they're at sea, away from their homes and families, is especially gratifying.

"It satisfies me to know that my work ensures the men and women of the United States Navy are safe and helps support positive morale."

Market-relevant curriculum

When she's not at work, Sweda is taking project management classes at Saint Leo's Newport News Education Office.1  She says courses – including Introduction to Project Management, Project Management Implementation, and Project Teamwork and Leadership – have been invaluable as she has settled into her new position.

"Those classes really reflect the real-world and what goes on in a business environment."

As she has learned more about the business aspects of her new position, she has studied similar topics in class. "It all made sense to me. The hands-on experience at work has really helped me better understand everything I'm learning in the classroom – and vice versa."

For example, in Project Management Implementation, she studied statements of work, requests for quotes and the management skills pyramid—concepts and project-management methods she encounters every day in her new job.

In the teamwork and leadership class, an assignment that required collaborating remotely with classmates to write a paper was challenging, but the experience prepared her for working with colleagues who are located in different states.

Next step: project manager

Once Sweda finishes her bachelor's degree in May 2016, she plans to continue her education by earning a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

Sweda never imagined where her career would take her when she first started out as a waitress at an Ohio restaurant, gradually working her way up to various management positions.

Now, she has found her niche, working in the marine industry, learning from faculty (who she says are "down-to-earth, with a lot of real-world experience and very helpful"), collaborating with classmates, and looking forward to additional advancement opportunities at her company.

"The classes I have been taking at Saint Leo have directly helped me in my career goals," says Sweda. "The things I have been learning have allowed me to meet and exceed goals and have helped me come up with new ideas on how to help manage the project."

 "It's been great preparation for my dream job as a project manager."

1The bachelor's degree program in business administration with a specialization in project management is also offered online through Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning. An online MBA in project management, which can be completed in as little as one year, is available, as well. Saint Leo is a Registered Education Provider with the Project Management Institute.

Image Credits:
U.S. Navy on Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy Penny Sweda

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