Landing a New Career Path

Spencer’s Story

Spencer Bowen follows his heart to transition from the military to Starbucks senior management to helping others on the Continuum College certificate advisory board.

I had to follow my heart.

 — Spencer Bowen, Senior Project Manager, Starbucks

Spencer Bowen was at a crossroads. After nearly a decade in the Air Force, Bowen was thinking about leaving his established career track to try something different, outside of the military.

“Many people told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life,” Bowen said. “I would be walking away from a stable lifetime career, amazing retirement benefits and a highly respected profession.” As the father of two small children at that time, his career uncertainty weighed heavily on him. “After some difficult soul searching, I finally knew what I had to do,” he said. “I had to follow my heart.”

To prepare for his next step, Bowen signed up for the Certificate in Project Management, offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education, a unit within Continuum College. He already had extensive military project management experience, but he wasn’t sure if it would translate to the civilian sector. Enrolling in the certificate program would have far-reaching consequences — leading to a network of professional connections, a new job at Starbucks as a senior project manager and a commitment to give back by joining the certificate advisory board.

“I have definitely benefited from the program, especially the networking opportunities it created,” Bowen said. “The program gave me not only a cohort of peers, but also the other graduates and instructors. Obtaining my position at Starbucks is a direct result of the networking the program provided.”

New Connections were Brewing

Bowen appreciated the skills he learned in the certificate program, but for him, finding a new professional tribe was the game changer.

“I kind of knew that networks were important,” Bowen said, “but it didn't really hit home until I started job searching.” Although Bowen is a Seattle native, he’d been away for 10 years and had no local professional connections. “I didn't really realize how much of a detriment that was until going through the program and making connections,” he said.

One connection was especially important — his instructor and mentor, Jennifer Diamond, who at that time worked for Starbucks. “She became my ‘wing-man,’ which is an Air Force term for someone who watches out for you,” Bowen explained. “She helped me navigate to the Starbucks role I’m in today.” 

I got so much out of the program…I want to give back to it.

 — Spencer Bowen, Senior Project Manager, Starbucks

Sharing Expertise, Paying It Forward

After the certificate program ended, Bowen decided to join the advisory board. “I got so much out of the program that I want to give back to it,” he said. “I found joining the board to be a perfect opportunity to provide my thoughts and guidance in directing how the program goes.”

It’s a route that’s come full circle for Bowen. “When you’re going through a transition, you think, ‘I've got to figure out what's best for me and my family and try to make this happen.’ And by getting in touch with others and helping people, it comes around. The transformational part of being in the program for me was that piece around the importance of connections and networking,” he said.

Bowen summed up his ideas of the Project Management certificate program this way: “We’re here to help and advance each other’s careers. This network props itself up together and everyone rises when we help each other.”