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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Going Back to Give Back

Summer 2017

Former Red Cross worker finds a way to keep helping people.

After working 11 years with the Red Cross, earning accolades for his leadership and team building, Miguel Ramirez suddenly found himself out of work through no fault of his own. His position was phased out, but his prospects were good.

He had solid references and years of experience project managing blood drives, consistently meeting or exceeding his goals. So Ramirez did his research, considered his options, and decided to pursue a project management position somewhere in Orange County — preferably a meaningful job that helps people.

First he needed to burnish his credentials with a PM certificate, but there were obstacles to overcome — not the least was lack of funds.

“I was interested in continuing what I did at the Red Cross, which is to help people while working for a company that resonates with me,” said Ramirez, a UC Irvine alumnus with a BS in chemistry. “The Red Cross gave me a great foundation in project management and I wanted to continue down that path, and I discovered that some companies required a project management certificate and/or a PMP. I was drawn to UCI, not only because I'm an alumnus, but also because of the great reputation the program has within the Orange County business community.”

Ramirez asked around and got positive feedback from friends who had completed the Project Management certificate program offered by UCI Division of Continuing Education. Sounded like the perfect next step in his journey, so he decided to take the plunge.

One problem: He couldn't afford to take the courses. But when Ramirez called the UCI DCE office and explained his situation, he found out about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a program administered by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education that assists displaced or disadvantaged workers with the cost of education.

He was directed to a local One-Stop Career Center — a job-assistance resource center that's sort of a clearing house for prospective WIOA applicants.

“I signed up for an orientation class and met with my career adviser,” Ramirez said. “She was instrumental in guiding me to qualify for WIOA assistance. I was very eager to begin the certificate program as soon as possible, and she was able to get me through the approval process very quickly due to the strength of my application.”

In the end, WIOA paid the entire cost for his tuition and books. “It was a game changer for me,” he said. “Getting my certificate wouldn't have been possible without WIOA assistance.”

After getting WIOA approval, Ramirez met with DCE career counselor Kirwan Rockefeller, who gave him advice on how to approach his classes and navigate the curriculum. It was an important step because he hadn't stepped foot in a classroom since he graduated UCI in 2003.

Together they laid out his schedule, and it was hectic. Ramirez was so motivated to get his certificate he managed to complete the entire program, all seven courses, in just two quarters. It was a heavy workload by any measure, but especially so considering he landed a job at California Pharmacy and Compounding Center in Newport the same time his classes began last summer.

“I knew that the project management certification was going to improve my opportunities in my job search, so the sooner I completed it, the faster I could move into my next career,” said Ramirez, a resident of Mission Viejo. “I was focused and found a great balance between all of my classes.” He quickly acclimated and thrived, revitalized by the teamwork and challenging, hands-on projects directed by experienced instructors. A few weeks into his first class, he “fell in love with being back in school.”

“I was hooked,” he said. “Taking multiple classes in a quarter was a treat for me. I love to organize and plan and through the curriculum I learned how to do it more effectively. I also loved working with my teammates. The program brought together an excellent group of professionals from different industries and we collaborated in teams to accomplish our project goals. It was so much fun, the instructors created an engaging hands-on working environment that we all enjoyed.”

Ramirez still works at California Pharmacy, doing double duty in marketing and human resources — two departments he helped build from the ground up. It's enjoyable and challenging, he says, and best of all allows him to work in a scientific environment and use his project management skills.

“Working for a small company, you tend to wear a lot of hats,” he said. “Since I got my PM certificate I'm able to streamline the processes and make them more efficient. I've created marketing collateral, re-branded the company, and implemented several programs for our employees.”

His position with the pharmacy is different from his work with the Red Cross, where Ramirez coordinated and managed around 40 blood drive events a month — excellent training for a career as a PM. “I was working on several projects at the same time and it required that I be extremely organized in order to stay on top of all my stakeholders and their needs. The success of my projects meant that I could provide blood products to patients in need.” Helping people by replenishing Southern California's blood supply was very fulfilling, he said. Now he hopes to find a similar position doing something positive for people, preferably as project manager with a medical device company.

Armed with his PM certificate and years of experience, Ramirez fully expects to find his dream job — perhaps sooner rather than later.

“The certificate from UCI is invaluable,” he said. “The curriculum was challenging and interesting and the instructors were amazing. They inspired me to love the art of project management. And they all have amazing real-life experience to teach and inspire. They are superstars in their own right and it was a pleasure to be challenged and learn from the best.”

But it never would have happened, he said, without making that first phone call.