MALVERN, Pa. — Penn State Great Valley’s professional development programs have made a world of difference to Helen Walker, she said, by helping provide a perfectly timed career boost.
Walker began her Penn State journey with an undergraduate degree at Penn State Brandywine, where she was a Lion Ambassador, and graduated from the College of Health and Human Development in 2002. She then worked in Penn State’s human resources department for a few semesters after graduating before moving into industry.
In 2021, she was impacted by mass layoffs at her company and struggled to find a new full-time position in a difficult job market. Walker had been receiving marketing emails from Penn State Great Valley after previously considering enrolling in a master’s degree program. In the wake of the layoff, something in an email from Great Valley caught her eye: the project management certificate.
“I had gotten a mailing about certificate programs and that everything had moved online because we were still in the thick of the pandemic,” Walker said. “I thought, ‘This is a great time to get the certifications that I wanted to get, especially in project management.’”
At the time, Walker was working as a tax preparer while looking for full-time project management jobs. It wasn’t an ideal situation, she said, but it did feel like perfect timing to enroll in the certificate program.
Walker completed the program in August 2022 and, a few weeks later, received a digital Credly badge, which can be displayed anywhere to recognize attaining a new level of knowledge. By then, she had applied for hundreds of positions, sometimes making it to the final rounds but never receiving an offer.
Adding the Credly badge to her LinkedIn profile proved to be the spark Walker needed. Within 24 hours of posting the badge, a recruiter reached out and suggested she apply to a project manager role at Syneos Health, a biopharmaceutical solutions organization. Less than a day after applying, Syneos reached out to Walker to set up an interview and, after three additional interviews, offered her the role at a salary much higher than she expected.
Now more than six months into the job, Walker is finding the lessons she learned from Great Valley’s program, combined with her years of experience, are providing invaluable insight.
“Project management, in a nutshell, is managing people,” Walker said. “Applying the project management skills to people, you have to be taught how to do it correctly and how to execute it correctly. This program basically taught how to… be able to work as a team and to execute the projects in scope, especially keeping it all within the time range. Things that I’ve learned out in the working world, I now learned more in-depth, the textbook way of doing it.”
While in the program, Walker also attended several workshops, including one to earn a Lean Six Sigma White Belt. That achievement has also caught a few eyes at Syneos, and a Lean Six committee at the company encouraged her to pursue further belts.
Walker said she plans to incrementally earn the other three Six Sigma belts, as well as the globally recognized Project Management Professional certification in the future. For now, though, she’s focused on excelling in the role and completing Great Valley’s new project risk certificate.
“Coming back to the Great Valley campus has always been a great experience,” Walker said. “It offers so much to the community and we’re so lucky to have Penn State Great Valley in this region here. The connections I’ve made through Penn State Great Valley at the workshops and in the certificate program have been wonderful.”