NUMEM Alum: Senior Project Management and Staying Relevant at Work

Lorenzo Gholston is a Senior Project Manager for Xerox and an adjunct professor at Westwood College. He graduated from the MEM program in 2009 with a concentration in Project and Product Management. In over seven years of project management experience with Xerox, he has led both small and large scale projects for clients in banking, education, healthcare, information and high-technology, and manufacturing.

I earned a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1998 and immediately began working as a mechanical engineer for Xerox in Webster, New York. Within the first five years, I held positions as a mechanical engineer, an operations supervisor, and a research design engineer while leading several projects using lean six sigma initiatives. The success of the projects earned me favor with my senior leaders and I started looking into MBA programs.

After further research, I found the MEM program available at the McCormick School of Engineering. I went to one of the new student orientations to get a feel for the program, the professors, the culture, and I was immediately hooked. The decision between an MBA and an MEM degree was practically a no brainer. Once classes started, I found the practical application of statistical tools, business plan development, and case analysis to be particularly important; however, as my career took off and I continued to excel in my company, I learned that education does not stop when school ends. Much of what I learned at MEM became relevant to my work after I left campus, and I had to develop my own self-education because of the unique nature of my career.

After I completed my MEM degree, I came to be regarded as one of the leaders in my organization. I moved from a project manager to a senior project manager, became co-chair of our Community of Practice and a mentor in the project management community, and obtained my Green Belt certification from the George Consulting Group and my Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). In spite of the success, I’ve still had to face obstacles and overcome barriers.

Over the years, my movement around my company has led me to become a virtual employee. As a senior project manager, I am a consultant in our services business which means I get to travel around the country to work with a variety of clients. I love this part of my job and the joys of working from home are great, but being a virtual employee makes it difficult to navigate a career. In my experience, I have not formally met, in person, any of the five managers I’ve had over the years. By not being tied to an office location, it’s easy to become lost in the company. To stay visible, I have to constantly stay current with my skills and ensure those who evaluate my work understand the value I’m adding to the organization and the overall business. I do this by making sure I meet, at a minimum, monthly with my project stakeholders and my manager/director. In addition, I make sure I am always taking learning courses to help further my skill sets whether through e-learning courses, workshops, or lectures. The continued learning helps me maintain my certification accreditation as a project manager professional as well.

My position is unique, but the entire field of engineering has also changed. In the past, engineering may have been considered a single specialty or discipline, but today’s engineer has to be flexible, well-rounded, and capable of working cross-functionally. The work place environments we compete in are always changing and it’s important to stay up-to-date. I can only stress the following to current MEM students: no matter what field or area of concentration you venture into after you’ve left NU, you are our future leaders, and you will need to be able to lead, execute, and deliver. That’s a promise!

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