Donor Spotlight: Valerie Turner, PMP®

 

29 January 2020

Published inPM for Social Good

Valerie Turner, PMP

Valerie Turner, PMP®

Valerie Turner, PMP®, wanted to be an engineer. But her life didn’t turn out as she had anticipated. With just a hint of regret, the Atlanta native believes that if she had had an executable plan of action for realizing her engineering dream, it could have come true. She has since turned that regret into hope of helping today’s youth find a workable path toward their dream reality. And toward that end, she has become a faithful donor to PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF).

“For me, part of the problem was getting a late start. When I got to Georgia Tech I realized there were students who already could do amazing things at science fairs, even build model cars. I thought I was smart when I went there, but suddenly I felt stupid because I was struggling and I couldn't figure out why everybody was so far ahead of me,” she recalls. She realized that while she had been a straight-A scholar at her small high school in Elwood, Ga., and had completed advanced courses at a community college, at Georgia Tech she was unprepared to compete with people from all over the world who had more expansive high school training.

That’s not to suggest that Valerie, a member of PMI Tampa Bay, Florida Chapter, has any complaints about where her career ultimately has taken her. Thanks to an insightful college counselor taking an interest in her and helping to steer her academic path, and Valerie’s own determination to achieve two degrees — management and building construction development — she is now vice president at the Housing Authority of the City of Lakeland, Fla.  

Valerie’s first job after graduating from college in 1994 was with the Olympics which were held in Atlanta during the summer of 1996. “I got lucky. They needed diversity. They said, ‘You’re a double minority — black and female. We’ll hire you.’ Sad, but true; and I accepted the job. There I was, with two degrees, but initially all they gave me to do was filing. The problem was that I didn’t have any field work experience.” Once they realized that she was reliable and willing to learn, they commenced training her on the technical aspects of being a project engineer, which included reviewing submittals, ensuring that work in place matched drawings and specifications, and preparing payment applications. 
 
After the Olympics, Valerie gained additional field experience with two other construction companies which led to a position with a private consulting firm assisting the Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta, Ga. There she was finally able to use her management skill set. Within two years she was a senior project manager. After being assigned to various impressive tasks, including handling recovery work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Valerie decided it was time to get her PMP designation. She achieved that goal in 2013. 

Currently at Lakeland housing authority, Valerie oversees a YouthBuild program (among other duties including affordable housing development, finance, and human resources) in which she helps young people enter the construction industry. “It's for people ages 16 to 23 lacking a high school diploma or GED,” she details. “Often they see construction as a last resort. Some of these young people live on the streets or in a car, and some have criminal backgrounds. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They have emotional pain. If a young person doesn’t have basic needs taken care of, they can't get to the next level and achieve self-actualization. That’s something I never really understood before I did my PMP training. Fortunately, construction companies will hire some people with criminal backgrounds; most other professional companies will not. I reflect back and realize that if someone hadn’t invested time and interest in me during my struggle in college, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the things that I have. So I want to pass that on.”

She believes project management skills are essential to these youth builders. “It gives them discipline,” Valerie says. “I try so hard to instill in them project management principles. Admittedly sometimes I talk over their heads because I'm so used to dealing with technical people, and they give me blank stares. So I dial it back and remind myself, ‘They don't even know what the terms are.’ I modify my checklist to cover the same items but in a way that can be understood by a person who may not even know how to read a plan.”

And that brings Valerie back to her primary reason for donating to PMIEF. “My reason for donating is I believe that if I had had project management skills when I was younger, I would have been doing what I should have been doing from day one. If I had had exposure to PM at a young age it would have allowed me to find out – before I got into college – what I wanted to do. If young people can learn about project management early – middle school would be ideal – it will help them organize their thoughts. They will have an idea how to create a plan for themselves instead of floundering. They will have the skill set to do it.”

Valerie says she hopes other project managers, too, will find a way to give to the youth of the world. “We have an obligation,” she stresses. “If you're good at something and you've been successful at it, you need to pass it on. You're going to die anyway, but if you pass it on to somebody else your legacy will last forever. It doesn't matter if you get credit for it; the important thing is to let your knowledge continue on and grow into a positive experience for the next generation.”

Valerie also wants to remind others that in our highly technical world, it’s important “… to put down the phone and interact with others on a direct basis. You really can't feel empathy for people if you don't learn to deal with them face-to-face, see the emotion in their eyes, and feel the emotion in their words,” she says. “We're now in such a fast-paced world, we don't take enough time with Millennials and Gen Zs. There has to be some young person working within your office that you can start mentoring to be not just a good employee, but a good person for their community, a good person for their environment. You can make a difference by teaching them to look at the big picture.”

   
 

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