In the U’s Project Management Certificate program, chemist Emma Cherney gained skills to organize and conduct experiments with scientists around the world

Ever thought about all the things that go into a bucket of paint? Emma Cherney hadn’t before she started working as a chemist for a global coatings company. 

“I never considered all the components that go into developing a simple paint coating that will stick to a wall,” says Cherney, a recent University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering graduate who designs and manages industrial coatings development projects. 

“It takes a lot of time to design new coating systems. It’s a very complex and scientific process,” explains Cherney. “There are so many things that go into making a paint system. You have to consider your customer requirements, your regulatory requirements, and the requirements of the business. And you have to design multiple experiments, where each chemical component is tested separately in tests that can take up to six months to complete. Because of this, a lot of thought needs to go into designing experiments and organizing our projects.”

Getting Organized

Recognizing that she needed a better way to keep track of her projects and experiments, she returned to the U and completed the Project Management Certificate. “I’m a chemist, not a project manager,” says Cherney. “But I have to coordinate multiple experiments and communicate with other scientists around the world. This requires project management skills that are not necessarily taught in a lot of the technical courses I took in my undergrad. This certificate program taught me so much.”

Emma Cherney on the U of M St. Paul campus Commons with Coffey Hall in background

Cherney says the program really helped her organize which steps should go first and which should come next. “After going through the program, I could more efficiently design a timeline to show how long an experiment would take or show how we're meeting, or failing to meet, the various requirements. The instructors provide you with a lot of templates and they really helped me get organized.”

Gaining a Bird’s-Eye View

With the tools she picked up in the program, Cherney was able to raise her head from ground level and gain a bird’s-eye view of her work. “Right away, I was able to make a presentation discussing a high-level overview of the development work of X new paint. I was able to organize my presentations differently, and I understood what needed to be discussed when talking about specific parts of the project. It also helped me work through many of the other details that go into other project stages, like making the project charter, determining stakeholders for projects, identifying customer requirements, and providing a template for discussing all of this information with the executives.

“The skills I’ve learned really help me orient myself from a business perspective. I don’t feel like I’m just a chemist, only talking about how these different paint components react. I’m also thinking like a business person, taking a step back and assessing: ‘Why are we doing this? Is this going to work? Are our goals for the project achievable?’”

"I don’t feel like I’m just a chemist... I’m also thinking like a business person."

Gathering Agility and Confidence

Among the other processes she has incorporated into her work, Cherney says seeking frequent feedback and adjusting accordingly, which she learned in the Introduction to Agile course, has helped improve relationships with the company’s customers. “The ‘agile’ mindset of getting constant feedback really feels more scientific. And this way our customers become as familiar with the product as we are and feel comfortable telling us whether it would work for them.”

The program also gave Cherney more confidence. “It really shed some light on myself. I never really thought about how I communicate or considered that there may be better and different ways to communicate with different people. Now I feel more confident in my communication, in my understanding of how to be a better leader, a better coworker, a better team player. And that’s better for everyone.”

Visit the Project Management Certificate website for more information about the program.