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USF alumna and PSCU executive travels all seven continents in under a decade

Sheila Porter at PSCU

Sheila Porter at PSCU

Sheila Porter brings the same tools she uses in her project management career to plan her world travel expeditions - using spreadsheet organization, financial management, and people skills - with a level of attention to detail that explains how she has been so successful at both.

A graduate of USF's MBA program (1992), she said her USF education helped her develop many of those skills. Within the past year Porter has been promoted to vice president of the Enterprise Project Management Office at credit union services organization PSCU and achieved a longtime dream of seeing the world's seven continents within the timeframe of one passport.

An alumna of Raymond James, she spent 11 years there in project management working under now-retired senior executive Lynn Pippenger, whom Porter calls a mentor and second mother.

"A mentor can encourage and help you to achieve things that you did not know were possible," Porter said, noting that Pippenger helped her develop the project management skills that would become the basis for her career.

At Raymond James, Porter also met her friend Catherine China, also a USF alumna. They bonded over being from large families and travel consisting of visiting relatives in Florida. She and China became travel buddies. For Porter's 40th birthday in 2005, they had planned a trip to Africa. But then, Porter's sister passed away from breast cancer, and China was diagnosed with cancer herself.

The Africa trip was postponed until 2008 when China was healthy, but by then, China and Porter had to renew their passports. They set a goal: to travel to all seven continents by the time those passports expired in 2018.

"The trip was based upon Catherine and I realizing that life is short," Porter said.

They reached that goal with two years to spare: with Australia and New Zealand in 2010, Iceland in 2012, China in 2014, Costa Rica in 2015, and then Chile and Antarctica this year. Porter said their travels have allowed her to absorb culture from all over the world, and she works hard to learn some of the language and customs of each place she goes.

Porter and China on their travels

Porter and China on their travels.

With the trip to Chile and Antarctica - an adventure they had put off because the two Florida girls feared the cold - they reached a milestone few others do.

This year, Porter also achieved a work milestone, with her promotion at PSCU after 10 years of working there in various positions. She said the mentors throughout her career - as well as her MBA from USF - helped her get to this point.

"It's a step up against the competition," she said. "My USF MBA helped me get a leg up and advance my career."

In addition, Porter said she still uses the skills she developed in the MBA program, most importantly learning how to work in a team and distribute work according to individual strengths. Learning to manage to a team's strengths is something she uses every day of her working life, she said. She also said the program gave her a chance to develop her marketing and sales chops in addition to the computer science knowledge she already had.

"The education from USF was incredible in helping prepare me," she said.

After a career in project management and 20 years of international travel, Porter has a plan for everything. But the one thing Porter doesn't have planned is the answer to a question she's asked often: where in the world is next?

"Seeing all seven continents had been the goal for so long," she said, pointing to a magnet she bought with all the continent names checked off. "We know we will continue to travel as long as our health allows it because it opens your mind. You've got to go out and live your dreams while you can."