Donor Spotlight: Betsy Fleek


22 May 2019

Published inPM for Social Good

Betsy Fleek with husband at airport

Following a recent trip to Thailand, donor Betsy Fleek greets her husband Mark Schoonaert at the airport. She calls Mark "her constant support."

Fleek Wants Project Management in ‘Hands, Minds and Hearts’ of Youth

Betsy Fleek, former PMP, says it was a “spectacular failure” early in her career that inspired her to get certified in project management. As a result, she has enjoyed a career being part of global Fortune 500 companies in their information technology area.” It’s been a wonderful journey of steps,” says Betsy who retired late last year from fulltime work at HCL Technologies.

Today she lends financial support to PMI Educational Foundation through Leadership Level donations. She strongly believes that project management training for today’s youth could help them avoid an early misstep such as hers.

“At that time I was a technical manager for a US based IT outsourcing company. For my first project I was placed at an insurance company in Chicago to create some statements of work; that was it. But in reality it turned out to be a total IT architecture redesign. And I failed miserably,” she admits courageously. “I didn’t understand project management. I didn’t understand all the steps. It was a spectacular failure.”

Betsy and her team spent three months on this multi-million dollar total network refresh, and – with help from projects managers who excelled at scheduling, cost management, schedule management, etc. – got the statements of work signed in the end. “I was learning as I was going. That’s when I realized there was something else I had no knowledge of and I was driven to know more. I knew this was something I had to learn.”

For Betsy, PMIEF involvement arrived via email. “I read a newsletter and a light bulb went off in my mind,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for. This is the missing piece between the professional project management training/certification/moving forward and getting an education earlier in the process.’ I loved the whole idea of it; it spoke to me.”

She wasted no time getting involved. “I have been very fortunate to have a mentor from PMIEF on the Board of Directors. We talk every month. He lets me know what is going on globally and I share with him what I am doing at a local level.”

Local, for Betsy, is now northern Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Having recently moved there, she says, “I am currently between chapters – I will join either the PMI Michiana or Calumet Chapter.”

Asked to pinpoint the driving force behind her Leadership Level donations, Betsy explains, “My ‘big thrill’ is the way PMIEF fills the gap with youth. They educate teachers and work in various other ways to get project management skills in the hands, minds, and hearts of younger students. When I graduated from high school, then college, I didn’t even know that project management was ‘a thing.’”

In comparison, Betsy believes today’s students have a wonderful opportunity to grasp that “thing,” thanks to PMIEF. “I think the material and the grants PMIEF is creating form a great program which will only gain in momentum as it goes along. It provides face-to-face training and resources from which educators can pull project management information for the benefit of their students and their schools. The same benefits are provided to non-profit organizations as well.”

Over the last three years, as she segued into retirement, Betsy “… really committed to supporting PMIEF. The reason is I firmly believe that if you can put your money where your heart is, you can be of great value to an organization,” she stresses. “What I really am excited about – and I don’t just think this will happen, I know this will happen – is the gifts will be used to introduce a framework and ideas in early grades. This effort will instill project management as a way of thinking and putting things together.”

Betsy has enjoyed a globe-trotting career, traveling regularly throughout the United States, Mexico, India, Asia and beyond, “through all time zones and all cultures. Project management truly is becoming a common language everywhere in the world, seeping down to earlier and earlier educational cycles globally,” she says.

Married and mother to a blended family of five grown children, Betsy says project management was always integrated into her family life. She recalls a family undertaking during one stay-at-home vacation. “We decided to have an ‘Iron Chef’ competition,” she tells. “We all had three days to prepare. In that time we had to come up with a recipe, acquire ingredients that were needed, figure out the time needed to execute the dish, and consider presentation. We invited friends to be judges. The kids went through all the requirements and considered what it would take to win this competition. From this activity they learned the skills, and got interested in project management. It became a second language to them. Today they incorporate project management in their careers,” says the proud mother.

It is no exaggeration to say that project management goes through everything Betsy does. “It has been a great benefit to me both personally, and professionally,” she declares. “Now, in retirement – which is really just a matter of having a choice in what you do for a day – I am involved with nonprofits; my focus is around strategic planning, project reporting, and project management. I will guide and mentor them.”

She will also stay true to her donor commitment to PMIEF, and hopes project managers will come to the same decision. “My takeaway to others is this: The workforce of the future is dependent on the youth of today, so we must invest in them. I feel very strongly that project management offers tangible, usable skills that can be absorbed by middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students. We must provide access and exposure, and with our gifts, PMIEF can do exactly that.”


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