In Nepal, agriculture is considered one of the major economic sectors—employing 66 percent of the total population and contributing 33 percent to the GDP. With such a high dependency placed on agronomics, it would make sense that the industry needs to run smoothly.
But it was almost the exact opposite situation that Kaitlyn Yates found herself. She traveled to the country through a Fellowship awarded by the Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture and her UC Davis Master's Program in International Agriculture Development. During her time in Nepal, Kaitlyn worked with a nonprofit on soil sustainability and kiwi production. Pictured above is Kaitlyn (first row, sixth from the left) with her Nepalese team. Thinking that her time there would be spent mostly on the technical agriculture work needed, Kaitlyn unexpectedly found herself filling a much-needed but very vacant project management role.
"The quarter prior to leaving for Nepal, I had taken a Project Management for Development course as part of my master's core curriculum, but I didn't fully see how it would apply to my time in Nepal," Kaitlyn remembers. "Boy, was I wrong! Shortly after arriving in Nepal and assessing the needs of the various stakeholders involved in my work, I realized the more urgent need for the organization was for them to learn basic project management skills. This included building out work breakdown schedules, risk registers, monitoring and evaluation plans, and communication plans."
Fortunately, Kaitlyn had taken that initial project management course and was able to draw upon that knowledge to help the nonprofit make inroads into adapting project management tools. But if Kaitlyn was to continue to make her life's work about social good, she knew she had to finesse her project management chops beyond just that one course.
But where to start?
Kaitlyn recalled conversations she had had with two alumni of her UC Davis master's program, both of whom completed our certificate and found resulting career advancement. A WiFi connection later, and Kaitlyn was enrolled in her first online project management course: Introduction to Project Management.
"The timing was perfect because I could take my learnings each day and immediately begin to apply them with my Nepali team," Kaitlyn recalls. "We saw greater teamwork, communication, documentation and output results!"
I have never felt like I couldn't sign up for a course online because it was only available in person.
Online Courses Mirror Real-Life Scenarios
Seeing as how Kaitlyn was living and working in Nepal when she began her project management education with us, taking her courses online was the only option. Fortunately, all of the courses in the certificate are offered online, giving Kaitlyn the freedom to choose the courses that best aligned with her education goals and then quickly enroll.
"The online format has been incredibly compatible with my work overseas and throughout California," Kaitlyn confirms. "I have never felt like I couldn't sign up for a course online because it was only available in person. I have always been appreciative of the online tools available, such as the templates that these courses provide."
In addition to utilizing the project management templates for her work in Nepal, Kaitlyn also found that the method of instruction was also more to her liking—specifically, she feels that learning through video instruction rather than by reading texts produced a higher retention rate.
So far, taking online courses was working just fine for Kaitlyn. But the big test came during her Project Leadership and Building High-Performing Teams course, where she had to work on a group project. Remember, Kaitlyn is in Nepal, on a completely different time zone than the rest of her group members and in a place where WiFi wasn’t always reliable.
"Often times, group projects can be a big pain, but the way this course was set up really allowed us to practice the skills we were learning and mimic what it was like to work on a virtual team," Kaitlyn says. "Because I was in Nepal, our team had the added challenge of dealing with my time difference and poor WiFi connectivity—both very real risks in project management in the development sector."
The international nonprofit sector is a space that is severely lacking in high-performing project managers.
Social Good + Project Management = Fulfilling Career
When Kaitlyn began her master's program, it was because she wanted to make a real, positive impact in the development sector. Seeing first-hand the real-life situations faced by families—first while working in Peru and then in Nepal—brought to life a desire to make agricultural development her mission.
"I decided to pursue my master's after living in Peru for a year working as a program manager for a nonprofit," Kaitlyn remembers. "I loved my job, but the work I was doing was not addressing the basic needs I witnessed, which were very much lacking in the families with whom I worked everyday. Most of these families were sustenance farmers, and I knew nothing about agriculture. I knew that if I wanted to make a difference in their lives, I needed to go back to school."
Now with her master's in hand and plans to wrap up her project management certificate this year, Kaitlyn is making the world a better place one development plan at a time as a Community Program Manager at The Wonderful Company (Shafter, Calif.). There, she manages the large community grants program in the rural agriculture communities in the San Joaquin Valley.
"Through the Project Management certificate, I have discovered my new passion," Kaitlyn muses. "When in the online portals of my classes, I learned a lot from my peers about how they are managing projects domestically. What is exciting to me about project management is that I am taking my learnings and skills into the international nonprofit sector. This is a space that is severely lacking in high-performing project managers. Feeling like I offer a unique perspective in my classes and have a real skill to bring to the table while abroad is very fulfilling."