'It was life-changing for me': How MCLA's Degree Completion Program helped Penny Christman '17 excel in a new career

Penny Christman '17Since earning her bachelor’s degree from MCLA, Penny Christman ’17 has found tremendous satisfaction with her career at General Dynamics—and has received multiple promotions to reflect the passion and skill she has as a program manager.

Christman’s job is to coordinate material procurement and accomplishment of associated tasking for Navy ships being built at different sites, staying in contact with on-site personnel and making sure everything is moving smoothly through the supply chain, including tracking the budget for funded work that needs to be completed during ship availability.

She started at General Dynamics four years ago in a materials job, working on one project element, and was promoted to a project manager role. She was just recently promoted again to program manager. “I knew that at GD, if you have a good work ethic, you can really go places,” she said.

Before working at GD, Christman was the accounting manager for the Center for EcoTechnology in Pittsfield, so by the time she was researching how to finish her bachelor’s degree, she had a lot of experience doing detail-oriented work and knew any degree path she decided to take had to be flexible to accommodate her full-time job.

MCLA’s Degree Completion Program met that need for her—she was able to attend evening classes, and move through her classes in a cohort model with other adults who wanted to take the next step in their careers. She had taken some community college classes already and needed to finish some core requirements to earn a degree in business administration. She was able to hone her public speaking skills, learn new frameworks for working collaboratively, and connect with her professors and the other local professionals in her classes.  

“The thing I took away from it, most of all, was the confidence having that degree gave me,” she said. “It was nice to be studying with a group of adults—it was great to talk through the real-world things we have all gone through and understand. The applicability was nice.”

She continued to work full time while finishing her degree. “It worked well, and it was life-changing for me,” she said. “I would never have had this job without it.”

Christman loves her job—she loves the detail-oriented work and the relationships she’s building with people all over the U.S. “I think I’m a relationship person,” she said. “One of the reasons I try to do my job so well is there are men and women, our children, our parents, on those ships. They are all people with faces and names, and I do everything I can to make sure they have what they need. That is the biggest mission impact I can make.”