Learning – and earning – by doing became a reality for Sarah Kedves, 18, when she became the recipient of a $300 college scholarship as winner of the inaugural PMI Vancouver Island Chapter and PMI Educational Foundation High School Challenge.
The competition was the brainchild of Ivan Daniel Rincon, PMIEF Liaison, and fellow PMI chapter volunteers who had completed a series of PMIEF’s Skills for Life programs at four area schools.
“We spread the word of project management, but we wanted to know in certain terms if this really works or not. So we decided to throw out a challenge for school-based projects to see if students really understand PM concepts,” explains Ivan. The program, which was open to all high school seniors, began in January 2018. Teachers and principals were engaged, and PMIEF organizers “created materials to excite students to the possibilities,” says Ivan. “We provided them with templates to use to organize materials and guide their efforts.”
By April, 10 projects had been submitted for assessment, six of which Ivan describes as “really good.” But the one that rose to the top was a project for a Canadian Sport School Information Night managed and submitted by Sarah.
“Two things tipped the scales in her favor,” says Ivan. “She articulated the project beautifully in her documents, adding interesting behind-the-scenes details. And she also included lessons learned.” So impressive was Sarah’s project, that she was asked to present it at the chapter’s annual general meeting, before 100 professional PMs. “We all sat up and took notice,” recalls Ivan. “She was able to teach us a few things.”
Sarah says project management skills are already making her life more efficient as she begins her freshman year at University of Victoria. “I am already seeing the tremendous value of organization and time management,” she says.
The latter skill was quite essential to her competition project. “I had to be aware of how much time I needed to spend on the project and balance that with time spent on schoolwork, homework, sports, and two part-time jobs. It got pretty busy,” says the former national-level figure skater-turned-elite field and track athlete. “The trickiest part was coordinating the schedules of everyone else – the principal, the strength and conditioning coach, the counselor – to make sure they could actually be at the event. It was difficult to find a date and time when they were all available.”
Another top consideration was “… risk management. That was a big component,” Sarah says. “I identified risks and how to adjust for them. These included such things as people not being able to attend because of commitments, access to the best venue for the event, inclement weather considerations, busy traffic times, and tie-ups that could impede attendees, etc. There were so many variables, some of which I might not have thought of without PM skills.”
Risk management also was among the primary items she discussed when speaking before PMs at the annual meeting. “I talked about what risk management is, and how to characterize it as low-, medium-, or high-risk, and how to tackle each of them,” recalls Sarah. “I also talked about delegating duties, and recognizing what I, as project manager, had to handle myself and what I could hand off to others. I also expressed the importance of not simply having a goal in mind, but instead really focusing on what the outcomes must be and how to achieve those outcomes. Just assuming an outcome will happen is not efficient or sufficient.”
When Sarah’s Canadian Sport School Information Night event came to fruition, it attracted “… a record number of parents and athletes who came to learn more about the school and build interest,” she notes. In addition to the main session, Sarah also scheduled three additional mid-day sessions – all well-attended – for those who couldn’t attend the main session.
At the project’s conclusion, “I felt pretty proud,” admits Sarah, with good reason. “I spent a lot of time and energy connecting with others to create and execute this project. It pushed me; I learned a great deal about leadership.” Indeed, the project was a bonafide success.
Ivan says his chapter found success, as well, in the new student challenge project which is set to become an annual event. “It was a learning experience even for the judges. Sarah displayed that special ‘X factor’ – excellent communication skills in explaining how to bring objectives to a successful conclusion. When she spoke at our meeting, I thought, “Wow, she really understood project management principles and applied them.’ She was even able to critique her own actions; that level of maturity is a wonderful thing to find, even at a professional PM level.”
Sarah has just begun her higher education journey as a kinesiology major. “Kinesiology is a path I can use to get into medical school,” says Sarah, laughing. “I am quite a planner. I definitely see my life as one very big project.”