Project Management Certificate Takes Him from Unemployed to New Heights

Just two weeks shy of earning his Professional Certificate in Project Management, Hector Acurio found himself laid off from his electrical engineering job. Hector, who immigrated to the United States from Peru as a young adult speaking no English, kept working, finished his certificate program, and eight months later was managing projects and representing his new country as a member of the Civil Engineering Squadron of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base.

Q. What brought you to UCR University Extension?

A: I’m a UCR alumnus, and there was this opportunity where I used to work where they were offering some classes from UCR University Extension, and they said that you will be able to earn a Professional Certificate in Project Management after completing 18 units, so I did take the chance to take the opportunity for my career.

Q. Tell us about your path leading up to today. Where were you at? Where did you want to go?

A: I graduated from UCR with a degree in Electrical Engineering, and I started my career at Kobelco Compressors America. It was an electrical engineer position, and then they gave me a promotion to Senior Electrical Engineer, then this opportunity came out to earn a certificate in Project Management. I earned the certificate, and it was very valuable for my professional career because it opened the door for me to a position as Electrical Engineer/Project Manager at Edwards Air Force Base.

Q. What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your journey? What were some of the unexpected benefits?

A: I got laid off two weeks before my last class ended, but my workplace was so nice they let me finish and get my certificate in Project Management. But when I got laid off, I was without work for almost eight months. The real unexpected benefit was going from being an electrical engineer to being bumped up to Project Manager.

Q. Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you think or hope it would lead you?

A: Before, I was probably looking at myself as an assistant manager, maybe, but enrolling in the Project Management Certificate Program gave me a little bit more in terms of goals. My boss told me he liked that I had the certification because it gave me better credentials compared to the other candidates.

Q. What difference did your experience at UCR University Extension make to your life path and career goals?

A: It was the flexibility that UCR University Extension Center had with small companies where they were able to offer a flexible schedule, especially for full-time workers. Often as professionals we don’t have time, and some of the classes are very inconvenient. But the way these were offered as a custom program at my workplace worked out very well for me, and I was able to embark on this path and finish the program.

Q. What professional achievements are you most proud of, and why?

A: Edwards Air Force Base gave me an award for Civilian of the Second Quarter for Science and Engineering, which was pretty awesome for me, starting a new job and then getting an award. That’s one of the achievements I’m really proud of. And of course, earning the certificate gave me this opportunity.

Q. What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding moments of your career so far?

A: It’s been really rewarding for me to get into this area where I have to not only deal with what I was doing before at Kobelco, which was low-voltage kinds of projects, but now I’m working on medium- and high-voltage projects, which is rewarding for me in terms of knowledge in a practical sense because I am learning a lot, and these are things I was not exposed to before.

Q. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced during your career?

A: I came to the United States as an immigrant from Peru not speaking a word of English. I started taking ESL classes and regular classes at community college, and then I transferred over to UCR, and it was really hard for me because I was working three jobs. When I graduated, I was worried because I didn’t get a lot of job interviews, but I was hired by Kobelco after my first interview.

Q. What career advice would you give to students or graduates looking to move into your industry?

A: There are probably two paths: the technical path and the management path. On the technical path, if you are working towards your Bachelor’s degree, I recommend that every student before graduating get at least a couple of internships because experience is very important, even on the management side. As you start working, you will realize that everything taught in school is kind of theoretical, and the world is a little bit different. Prepare, and no matter what company you are hired to work for, always do your best and try to learn as much as you can because life is a journey full of experiences, and as human beings we learn based on experience. For the management path, getting a Master’s, or a professional certificate like I did, will be best for pursuing a supervisory position at work.

Q. Was there something (or someone) memorable to your experience at UCR University Extension, or in your professional career?

A: My previous boss, and the boss I have now, English is also their second language, and they have set an example for me. When I am at work, I try to identify myself with the good qualities that my boss has and see if I have them too, and if not, I try to learn them. My current boss is always pushing me to do things better. This is the kind of person who actually cares about your professional growth; sometimes people just don’t care about what you’re doing. If you’re doing it okay, that’s fine for them, but that’s not always the right way to be a leader. To be a boss you have to be a leader. You have to be able to recognize your mistakes.

Q. What are you doing now, Hector?

A: My position is Electrical Engineer/Project Manager at Edwards Air Force Base in the Civil Engineer Squadron. I manage projects. We are in charge of ensuring that the Air Force mission is supported, and we are in charge of assessing buildings. I am working on projects that definitely need electrical engineering support.

Q. In your life today, what makes you really happy, Hector?

A: I am really happy that I am growing as a professional. I’m also happy that I have not made a mistake in choosing my career as an Electrical Engineer/Project Manager at Edwards Air Force Base. I’m also very happy that I have a lovely wife who always supports me in my decisions. Overall, I’m very happy with what I have accomplished so far. I like to say, Happiness will always be your choice.

Q. Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

A: If you think that you can do it, you will do it. If you think that you cannot do it, it won’t happen, if you don’t try. You at least have to try. Sometimes we think we don’t have time to do this, or we think a Bachelor’s degree is enough. I say, put away those thoughts and just give it a try and do your best. Also be aware that a professional has more chances to grow if they expand their knowledge by undertaking additional studies and adding certifications to their profile. Do your best in what you can and I’m pretty sure the outcome will be very positive in your life.

UCR University Extension graduate Hector Acurio Hector Acurio
Electrical Engineer/Project Manager
Edwards Air Force Base