Professional development programs help shape Great Valley student's career

The entrance of Penn State Great Valley's Main Building, framed by trees and flowers

Flowers, trees and stones decorate the path leading up to the entrance of Penn State Great Valley's Main Building.

Credit: Christy Selagy

MALVERN, Pa. — In the almost five years since he was introduced to Penn State Great Valley, a lot has changed for James McKenna. During the fall 2018 semester, McKenna attended an all-day leadership course at the behest of his company, which piqued his interest enough that he decided to pursue Great Valley’s leadership development certificate program, now called the essentials in strategy leadership certificate.

The discussion-focused format of the courses particularly drew McKenna in. Students, as well as the instructors, often delved into relevant situations they encountered at their full-time jobs, how they were able to apply lessons from the classroom at work, and how to adjust when things didn’t go according to plan.

“There was a lot of discussion and open insight from different industries,” McKenna said. “It’s one thing to talk about a project and how it’s going to go great and you’re going to hit all your deadlines and milestones. It’s very different to go through it. You’ve got different personalities clashing. How do you manage that and still get to your end objective? I think the way that the courses are formatted is well suited for professional development, for someone who’s working full time and learning things from different industries.”

Professional development courses at Penn State Great Valley had switched to a remote model when McKenna began the project management certificate program a few years later. The discussions were just as robust and impactful as they had been in person — which made enrolling in his third certificate program, the Six Sigma Black Belt certification, an easy choice for McKenna.

Each of the three programs have been invaluable to McKenna as his career has progressed, providing “tips and tricks” that have helped him reevaluate situations, foster open communication on his teams and more. The broader lessons gleaned from the programs have been beneficial, too, giving him insight into the intricacies of management and leadership, as well as reinforcing the importance of continuing education.

“It’s helpful to understand it’s not just about process management or project management and getting it done,” McKenna said, “but also taking a step back, coming together as a team, understanding stress and how people react to it differently.”

McKenna is currently the vice president of process management at First Resource Bank, where he has shared key insights he learned at Great Valley to the rest of the staff. McKenna noted that developing and investing in employees is important to First Resource; given the impact Great Valley’s programs had on him — and, by extension, his co-workers — he saw a great opportunity.

With that in mind, McKenna recently facilitated a connection between his chief operating officer and Penn State Great Valley’s director of professional programs, Ed Weckerly, to help provide employees easy access to Great Valley’s certificate programs, noncredit courses and workshops.

“Education really is important,” McKenna said. “[A professional development program] takes you out of that day to day and really broadens your horizons. For me, that’s key. … We need people to think differently. Penn State’s helping us doing that.”