School: Business
Marie Spark faculty profile image
Photo credit: Lorena De Benedittis
November 23, 2019 |

Creativity and Problem-Solving Combine in Project Management Career

Marie Spark wanted to be a journalist. Then she discovered that what she loved doing—creative problem-solving and coordinating logistics—was project management.

By Jenny McKeel

Lecturer and Project Management program director Marie Spark loves preparing students for an industry experiencing surging growth. By 2020, it’s anticipated that 11 million project management jobs will be added by the United States and its 10 major trading partners. Marie’s classes emphasize hands-on, situational application of theory. The technical knowledge and advanced communication skills students gain makes all the difference on-the-job.

Marie’s own professional path started at UC Berkeley, where she majored in Rhetoric and minored in French. She couldn’t have predicted the career that followed. As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

From NPR to MBA

After discovering a passion for journalism, Marie landed an internship with NPR that, she later realized, was her first project management role. She loved tracking down information and coordinating studio interviews, but decided against a career in radio where job prospects were low.

Participants celebrate at the Leadership Institute Meeting
Participants at the Project Management Institute's Leadership Institute Meeting
The Leadership Institute Meeting in Philadelphia
Project managers at the Leadership Institute Meeting
Project managers gather at the Leadership Institute Meeting
Project managers from around the world gather at the Leadership Institute Meeting

At the Leadership Institute Meeting, participants promote their local project management communities


Participants commemorate PMI's 50th anniversary


Project managers collaborate at the Leadership Institute Meeting

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She went back to school for her MBA and discovered the project management field—a mix of creative problem-solving and detail orientation that was an immediate fit. She took a consulting position with IBM and learned IT project management on-the-job before moving to Bank of America in IT project management.

“My strengths,” said Marie, “are that I dive into learning things and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m good at understanding complex concepts and explaining them. That’s a lot of what it takes to be a project manager.”

Six Sigma Certification

At Bank of America, Marie received Black Belt certification in Six Sigma, a set of tools for improving processes, products, and services. She also coached people pursuing Green Belt certification. When Marie was laid off from B of A, she seized the opportunity for growth and realized coaching others was what she loved most.

“I volunteered with the Project Management Institute’s San Francisco chapter in a leadership role—an amazing opportunity,” said Marie. “Through contacts I eventually was offered a teaching position at Golden Gate University. There’s tremendous value in volunteering with professional organizations and putting yourself out there because you never know where things will end up.”

Leadership and Problem-Solving Skills

Today, Marie equips students with crucial leadership and problem-solving skills like negotiation, motivation, and conflict resolution.

“There used to be the idea that project management is administrative overhead,” said Marie. “Today, companies are realizing that project management provides a structure that gives you the freedom to create change. Any business you can think of is going through massive transformation and in order to change effectively you need to understand how to manage projects. That’s why it’s exciting to be in project management.”

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