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Taking the Lead

Taking the LeadSince its inception more than two decades ago, Tufts’ innovative and award-winning Master of Science in Engineering Management program at The Gordon Institute has produced engineering and technical leaders.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.26.07] Mike Lee remembers one of his first assignments in the two-year Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) program at The Gordon Institute at Tufts School of Engineering. He and his teammates were charged with inventing a new product and taking all of the necessary steps to bring it to the market. Lee had barely had time to open his books, let alone study them. It seemed a daunting task.

But the team-composed of technical professionals from a variety of fields-relied mainly on their collective practical experience and forged ahead. It was a trial-by-fire experience that Lee said set the tone for his next two years at Tufts and paid major dividends in the end.

"It forced you to work as a team to try to understand concepts that you may not have been ready for," Lee said, noting that teamwork and self-motivation kept the project afloat. "You got a basic idea of what the whole program was going to be about."

According to Lee, a technical manager/systems engineer at General Dynamics in Mass., his classroom education focused on the concepts his team had explored during the project. But that early taste of teamwork and hands-on experience gave him a good sense of the way The Gordon Institute carries out its mission-to develop engineering and technical leaders. Founded by Tufts Trustee and pioneering inventor Bernard Gordon more than two decades ago, the Institute has stayed true to that goal since it opened its doors.

"Our mission statement is very clear and has always been consistent," said Gordon Institute Director Arthur Winston, who oversees the MSEM program. "Our whole essence ... is really to create leaders. If we didn't do that, we really wouldn't have a purpose."

MSEM's innovative approach to engineering and technology education recently earned its creators the prestigious Bernard M. Gordon Prize from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Winston, who helped define The Gordon Institute's mission, policies and curriculum, received the award along with Harold Goldberg and Jerome Levy, who were also instrumental in its establishment.

"It gives you a good feeling that what you believed in and what you once helped create has been recognized by other people in the field," said Winston, a research professor of electrical engineering at Tufts and former president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The MSEM program, which covers a range of topics-including product development, business management, communications, project management and decision-making-is geared specifically toward working engineering and technical professionals who want to take the next step in their careers. Classes are held mainly on weekends to accommodate students' hectic schedules. Graduates of the program, like Lee, who earned his degree in 2006, agree that the Institute gave them the skill set they needed to transition into leadership roles.

"It's designed to produce technical managers or people who are more capable to lead in the technical management chain," said Lee, who was promoted to a management position at General Dynamics when he completed the MSEM program. "You need more than just an understanding of how a business runs in this environment. You have to have a technical background coupled with the management and business sense of how to execute programs."

It's that mix of skills that Jenn Greene, who earned her bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Tufts in 2001, sought when she enrolled in the MSEM program in 2004. During her time at The Gordon Institute, Greene was promoted to a project manager at Shawmut Design and Construction. She said the problem-solving experience she gained in graduate school prepared her to take on a more advanced role at the Boston-based company.

"Basically, what I do every day is a lot of multidisciplinary problem-solving," she said. "[My education] really fed into what I do at work."

Greene found the program's practicum component to be invaluable training, as well. During the summer between her first and second year in the MSEM program, she and a group of her classmates worked as consultants to a local medical device manufacturing company. Their objective was to help the organization improve its manufacturing process.

"They really respected our opinions and listened to what we had to say," Greene said, crediting her classmates with bringing a wealth of knowledge to the team. Throughout her time at The Gordon Institute, Greene said, she learned from her peers, as well as her professors.

"Everyone approached problems differently," she said about her classmates, who hailed from a variety of different technical professions. "Everyone brought knowledge to the table."

Current MSEM student Tatiana Slingeland agrees that being able to collaborate with students from different professional backgrounds has been a valuable feature of the program. But she said the opportunity to work closely with technological professionals from around the world has been equally beneficial.

"The cultural diversity has given a depth to many of our class discussions that would otherwise not be possible," said Slingeland, who is slated to earn her MSEM in 2008.

Beyond what's she picking up from her classmates, Slingeland said the program has also taught her about team dynamics, time-management, and prioritizing and delegating tasks. Her classmate Gabe Wegel, who will also earn his MESM degree in 2008, said it's those skills that he is hoping to fine tune.

"I thought this degree would be a good fit for someone like myself who wants to stay technically minded, but wants to play a more managerial role in a project," said Webel, who works as a mechanical engineer at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. "I'd like to move up."

Based on The Gordon Institute's mission-which, as Winston pointed out, is the root of its success-Wegel came to the right place.

"It's a technical world and you need people that have a good understanding of technology," Winston said. "But more than that you really need people who are going to take the reigns and be leaders."

-- Meghan Mandeville, Tufts Web Communications

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