project planning


After earning an undergraduate degree in finance from UTC, Sandra Cordell had no idea that her career path would lead her back to a UTC classroom eight years later. While working as an administrative assistant in UTC’s Gary W. Rollins College of Business post-graduation, she coordinated a couple of small events. Upper management noticed her talent for planning and asked her if she would become the project and program coordinator for the department, to which she said, “Absolutely!” On a recent Zoom session with Sandra, I learned about why she decided to get PMP certified—and how her alma mater’s exam prep course helped her along the way.


Marah: Why did you pursue the PMP certification?

Sandra: For the longest time, I didn’t think I was a true project manager. Many people associate project management with IT or construction, but other people kept saying, “You know what you’re doing is project management, right?” The more feedback I received, the more I felt that I should pursue the certification. I knew how to “do” project management, but I didn’t know the project management framework, inputs, and processes. I knew that if I could “speak the lingo,” I could make our programs and events even better. I also knew it would give me more confidence in my role at UTC. For me, that confidence was the biggest selling point.


M: Why did you choose to pursue certification prep at UTC?

S: My husband is in HR, and he worked with Ginger Duggan from CPE on a project. He ended up connecting us after mentioning my interest in certification to her. I put off getting my certification for two years, but Ginger kept reaching out to me, encouraging me, and coaching me. Of course, my family and friends were encouraging as well, but having a certified PMP in my corner saying she was here to help with anything I needed was incredibly valuable. And, once I decided to sign up for the course, she assisted me with the application process. That was TREMENDOUSLY appreciated. I used to see that process as an obstacle, but Ginger was able to help me through it!


M: What was one of the biggest takeaways you had from the PMP Exam Prep course?

S: Before the course, I didn’t realize all the things I was doing under the realm of project management. I was thinking too small and not in the right context. The terms and techniques you learn can be applied to projects in many different industries. That’s why project management is unique, and one of the reasons why I love it!


M: What advice would you give to someone studying for their certification exam? Do you have any study tips you would give them?

S: At first, I mainly studied on the weekends. However, I quickly learned that I needed to immerse myself in the material, and I began to study during the workweek in the evenings. I think the most important piece of advice I would share is to write down the processes every day (I had a blank template I used). I also took a lot of practice exams. That was helpful because the exam is not just definitions; it’s understanding how everything flows together and fits into everything else. The exams helped me gain that understanding instead of just regurgitating information. Practice exams also helped me see how questions are formatted on the test.

Also, I would say that having a support system is vital during the certification process. My husband is awesome, and he wanted me to get certified, so he let me do my thing and make time for studying. Whoever it is, the support system makes all the difference!


M: On test day, when you finally hit submit and saw that you passed, how did you feel?

S: For so long, I said, “One day I will get my PMP. One day!” It was so surreal to finally have it. It’s been a long journey, but now when people ask me to do things (especially my husband!) I get to say, “Well I’m a PMP, so of course I can help you!”


M: What’s next now that you’re PMP certified?

S: My first objective is to incorporate tools and processes I have learned into existing projects to make our team more efficient. I love working at UTC, and now that I am a certified “specialist” in project management, I hope to continue advancing in my career at the college. However, I am keeping my options open regarding other professional opportunities. I am also considering a master’s degree in project management.


M: Is there anything else you would like to share about your PMP experience?

S: My husband worked on a certification where he just studied from books he bought. Because he didn’t go through formal training, I thought that I could do the same thing for PMP and be fine. That’s when I got the old PMBOK and quickly discovered that I didn’t even know where to begin! For me, taking a prep course was instrumental. That’s what helped me get across the finish line. I don’t think I could have passed the test without taking the prep course and highly recommend UTC’s course to anyone!


Marah Whitaker headshot

Marah Whitaker (think Laura with an M) serves as the marketing assistant for the UTC Center for Professional Education. During the workday, she spends time writing blog posts, creating content for social media, developing email campaigns, and building relationships with CPE’s customer base. During her free time, you can find her getting lost in a good book, having spontaneous dance parties, playing piano, and going to Buffalo Wild Wings on Wing Night. Professionally and personally, she aspires to live by Mr. Feeny’s advice, “Dream. Believe. Try. Do Good.” She strives to use her passions to serve others and contribute positively to the world around her.

Connect with Marah on LinkedIn.