Skip Navigation

DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: A Project Plan for Personal and Community Advancement

Summer 2019

This DCE alumna empowers others to realize their true purpose and achieve meaningful goals.

Catalina Giraldo is a Colombian project manager whose experience in DCE's Project Management certificate program has benefitted not only her business ventures but also the most underserved people of her community. Catalina's passion for helping others plan and take actionable steps towards audacious personal goals is exemplified in the work she does as a business and life coach and as a volunteer in her local PMI® chapter.

“After becoming a PMP®, I also got certified as a business and life coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF),” Catalina shared. “And now, I focus my time heavily on life projects. I believe that every human being is in this world to achieve something big. Something they might not even know they're capable of yet.” Today, her inspirational work leading low or no-cost project management workshops for community leaders in the city of Medellin, Colombia has enabled numerous people to launch small businesses, and one student to open a local pharmacy.

Marty Wartenberg, Catalina's instructor at UCI, was entirely correct when he told her that she had all the tools, all the abilities, and the mindset of a project manager. “I've seen several people in my workshops that have gathered together to create foundations that help others,” she said. “So it has been rewarding to notice that a lot of people don't just focus on their own goals and their own projects, but they immediately want to serve others, and they want to make a big impact.”

The ability to set real goals, and guide her team through every stage of a journey helps her balance the responsibilities that come with being a working professional and a mother. Between keeping construction projects on track at her employer, Constructora Punto Dorado, conducting life coaching calls with clients from around the world, and caring for her young son, Catalina managed to share some thoughts with us about her time at UCI and how that training plays an important role in all aspects of her life.

Let's talk a little bit about your career journey. What type of experience did you have prior to studying at the Division of Continuing Education and what opportunities did you find afterwards?

Well, I have worked in the real estate development and construction industry from the beginning of my career. After earning my Project Management certificate from UCI and becoming a PMP®, I learned that a mutual friend was looking for someone they could trust as part of a hotel project in Colombia lead by the international firm Grupo Tres Rios. They needed someone that spoke English, was trustworthy, and who could represent their business interests as a local. So, I joined that project for a period of 6 months while simultaneously employed by Constructora Punto Dorado. The experience of applying my education to the hotel project provided me the confidence and knowledge I needed to convince CPD to move me into a project management role. I am still with them today and have been working in the organization since 2011 when I started as a marketing and sales advisor. Later, I became the commercial director and thanks to my education, I have continued to grow each year.

Project Management is a wide field, with numerous education providers around the world. How did you find out about UCI and why did you decide to learn here?

I was actually about to leave for Scotland to earn a master's degree in marketing when just before making that decision I got a call from a friend who was completing UCI's International Business Operations and Management on-campus accelerated certificate program. He said, “I'm doing the most amazing program in California. Why don't you come take the Marketing program with me here instead?” So, I came to UCI to study marketing and during this time met Marty Wartenberg who convinced me to also enroll in the Project Management certificate. Marty noticed my previous work as an engineer, and since he believed in my project management capabilities, I thought to myself, “let's give it a chance!”

Wow, well we're thankful that you took that leap of faith! So, what do your daily responsibilities look like in your current role?

After I was at UCI, and thanks to my incredible mentor Marty, I became very self-empowered. He recognized my leadership potential in the world of project management. My daily role as a project manager changes every day due to the many phases of a project. I have been with my company since the very beginning, which included the planning and creation of our team. Right now we're finishing sales on the second of two housing developments so I go to our site daily and literally put on my boots and helmet to walk around and determine whether our contractors are meeting deadlines and quality standards. I also have a weekly meeting with all the engineers and our management team to review scheduling and cost management controls.

How would you say that becoming a project manager has changed your life?

Well, it has totally impacted my life positively. I am proud to be a PMP® and belong to the community of PMI® members in my city. One of my personal goals right now is to help people understand their true selves, and awaken to their purpose in life. I think is very important for people to have life goals, and to understand how they can achieve them through effective planning. I started to do life coaching because other people recognized my leadership qualities and the passion I had for helping others. There are numerous project management training programs online, but many people in third-world countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia cannot afford nor have the means to complete them. With the workshops I am leading now in Medellin, I hope to create an educational system where people learn by giving to others, and this idea of planning and taking steps towards goals empowers everyone in our community to improve their lives.

You absolutely have some exciting things going on right now. What's the next phase for you?

I think my most important project is still my family, and being a mother. I was very inspired by my instructor Marty and how he empowered his children from an early age to lead their own projects. He shared an example where during a day-trip to Disneyland the children planned all the logistics and he acted as merely a stakeholder. Kids are our future, or better yet, the present. So I think the earlier children learn small aspects of project management, the more successful they will be as adults. Now that my son is a little older, as a professional I am very close to starting my engines back up on something even larger-scale than before where I can truly apply all these aspects of project management that I have become an expert on.

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/pm