Great Valley student credits project management certificate for career success

MALVERN, Pa. — When Natalie Nafe completed her project management certificate from Penn State Great Valley in April 2019, life was a lot different, and not just because that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the two years since completing the certificate program, Nafe has jumped into a career in project management, been promoted, doubled her salary, completed two degrees, and started a third.

Headshot of Natalie Nafe

Since earning her project management certificate two years ago, Natalie Nafe has doubled her salary.

Credit: Natalie Nafe

It’s a lot for a short period of time, and Nafe attributes all the positive changes to the Great Valley campus. Enrolling in the certificate program helped her turn project management into her career, despite not having any prior project management roles on her résumé.

“All of the instructors for the program are project managers,” Nafe said. “They have a career as a project manager and because of that, they’re able to kind of teach you their own experiences and it helps you understand what you’re in for when you eventually take that field on.”

One day, Nafe was on the Great Valley campus to help with a workshop instructor Kyle Hanlan was running in the Main Building. An open house was going on in the nearby Conference Center Building, and Hanlan encouraged her to check it out.

When she came across information on the project management certificate, she knew she had to enroll. At the time, Nafe was working in an IT service leader role, overseeing multiple projects. She also had 10 years of retail management experience, where she was constantly running projects. So, although she wasn’t a project manager in title, she was performing many related job functions; the certificate program seemed like the perfect supplement.

When Nafe began the program, she was also balancing numerous other obligations: working full time, finishing her bachelor’s degree, attending Great Valley’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam preparation course, and juggling her teenage sons’ extracurricular activities.

“I think the best advice is to have a schedule, make sure your calendar is blocked out, so if someone asks you to do something, you can look and know, ‘No, this is the day that I have to do this. I can’t really do anything else on that day. I have to plan around it,’” Nafe said. “Making sure that you’re taking time for your personal advancement, that’s the other thing. You have to be dedicated to want to do that.”

There was no doubt that Nafe was dedicated to the project management certificate program, and it paid off. Within a few weeks of finishing the program, Nafe landed an interview for a project management assistant role at INTREN. That interview was on a Friday. On Monday, she had a follow-up interview and was offered the position the next day.

“It was really fast, but I would not have gotten the interview in the first place without [the project management certificate],” Nafe said. “It let me be able to speak to the job because they were looking for project managers.”

She began to take on more project manager duties and, by the end of the year, was recruited to be a project management assistant at KGDR Consultants Inc.

Nafe earned her PMP in December 2020 and also attributes that to Great Valley. Taking Michael Katz’s PMP exam prep course helped Nafe understand not only how to prepare for the test, but also how to understand what kind of responses the Project Management Institute needed to see for her to pass the exam.

With the PMP designation under her belt and some structural reorganization at KGDR, Nafe was promoted to project manager in mid-April. She also recently earned an MBA with a concentration in project management — she often referred to the project management certificate materials to help with her MBA courses — and began a doctoral program in public policy and administration at Walden University around the same time as her promotion.

A lot has changed in two years, but Nafe still uses some of the key concepts addressed in the program — particularly planning and initiating a project, as well as establishing clear communication channels — to help improve processes at work.

“I can’t even express enough how much that impacted my projection forward. It projected me forward into the career path that I’m in, into the job that I have, and I still think about some of the key points that the instructors had,” Nafe said. “Even through a full year of pandemic, I’m in a career I’m happy about, making double what I was before in an industry [IT] that I really enjoy.”