Interview with: Willem Van Mulders, Director of Academic and Educational Outreach
Interview by: Frank Turley
Introduction: Willem is doing some very interesting work promoting project management in schools and any other interested organizations. This interview focuses on his work with RTC (secondary schools in Flanders)
1: What is your role @ PMI
I am Willem Van Mulders and I am currently Director of educational Outreach. This means that I am promoting project management in schools, universities and one of these organizations is RTC (Regional Technology Centre).
2: What is the RTC?
The RTC is the Regional Technology Centre and represent a group of STEM secondary schools in each province in Flanders. They promote STEM in education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They give support to the schools in their region. They provide educational projects to the schools to get the students involved in STEM. A few years ago, we got in contact with the RTC Limburg. Last year we got in contact with RTC Antwerp.
3: What are the needs of the RTC?
The STEM teachers in the RTC different schools were looking for a practical way to get their students involved in project management. In RTC Limburg we helped them with a TTT (train the trainer) course in project management. This year we provided the same kind of support to the RTC Antwerp.
4: What types of projects do their students do?
The students do different types of technical projects in relation with their studies for example:
- Build prototypes of electronic gadgets to solve specific problems.
- Work together with different departments where they need to plan and coordinate their efforts
- This involves programming, design, testing where they need to practice science, technology, engineering and mathematics
- Another important component of their projects is the collaboration with future employers.
5: What seems to be working? What do they like about our approach?
During the first TTT sessions for the RTC Limburg we thought the teachers the basic principles of project management and provided them with a number of tools and techniques. We also gave them a set of practical exercises so they could experience some of the techniques. This made it easier for them to pass this knowledge to their students.
At that time Frank Turley, Director of Professional Development, created the LTP (Learn through Practice) initiative. Since doctors practice medicine and lawyers practice law, becoming a good project manager is about practicing project management. We also gave them a preview of this material. This year for the RTC Antwerp, we integrated the LTP material in the TTT approach.
The best teacher in life is experience. The best way to learn is to practice. This is a principle that a lot of us have forgotten. We want to teach people a life skill, so we need to maximize the benefits. If you look at the diagram you can see that the learning effect is a lot bigger when students can learn in an active way. They hear, see, practice and experience a new skill. This way our effort carries a lot further.
6: What is next?
The teachers are now using the materials we have provided to promote and teach project management within their school projects. They will keep in touch with us and will provide us with feedback. We will keep on developing our material to match their needs. What we also want to do is learn about their experiences.
7: Which benefits will these students have for the future?
We want to offer these students following benefits:
- Give them the basic understanding on project management with some hands-on examples
- Create project management awareness and add an extra skill to their skillset
- Give them an appetite to go further in developing this skill or skillset
Our goal is to make project management much more accessible to these students. The main achievement is to give the students the approach and the confidence to start practicing project management. They can gain and practice this life skill in a safe environment and be able to use it whenever the opportunity presents itself.
They get to experience project management like they would use it later in their careers. Project management is a life skill and the best way to master project management is to practice.