MEM Degrees are already the “Graduate Programs of the Future”

For a few years now, “engineering” and “technical leadership” have been the new buzz words for a great career. A slew of recent articles suggest that graduate schools are finally adjusting to fill the demand for professionals in these industries, but what might appear “new” and “innovative” has already been built into several graduate programs for decades. Check out our top picks for recent articles on new phenomena that have actually been integral aspects of the Northwestern MEM program since the beginning.

1. Multi-disciplinary Education

 “Engineering is at the core of so many complex global challenges—in healthcare, medicine, energy, food safety, manufacturing, communications, the environment—that grad programs have realized cross-disciplinary, even multi-disciplinary programs, are essential now to train new engineers.”

As quoted above, a recent article from U.S. News and World Report discusses the recent “realization” that engineers have a diverse set of skills, and secluding them in a lab or classroom will not prepare them to face and solve global problems. “Traditionally, engineering students have been seen as focusing almost exclusively on advanced math, taking notes in large lecture halls, and working in isolated labs on narrow, abstract projects,” the article continues, “for years graduate school programs often failed to make that real-world connection apparent.” While companies and graduate programs are finally starting to warm up to the idea that engineers can also lead teams and understand departments outside of engineering, such as finance and accounting, the MEM program has been providing exactly the type of education to allow hundreds ambitious, motivated engineers to become managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and much more.

2. Do entrepreneurs still favor MBAs?

Vivek Wadwha, who teaches in Duke’s MEM program, had a blog post “Why I No Longer Advise Startups to Hire M.B.A.s” on the Wall Street Journal website identifies why specialized technical degrees in engineering management programs are more effective than an MBA program in developing the skills necessary to build a successful startup in today’s market.

 “I no longer advise startups to hire M.B.A.s and I discourage students who want to become entrepreneurs from doing an M.B.A. [. . .] Instead of M.B.A.s, what I advise students with technology backgrounds to complete are one-year long masters of engineering-management programs . . .  After all, the skills that startups care about aren’t how to conceive new types of financial products, but how to create technologies that actually do good for the world.”

As the ability to access and create new technology becomes cheaper and education more diverse, startups will continually phase out the need for employees in a management position while technical leaders learn these skills for themselves. While MBA programs have maintained the same core classes and traditional style of developing business plans, MEM programs offer the technical skills necessary to create new technology and innovate while teaching the softer skills of negotiating and leadership.

3. Students need real world experience in order to succeed.

“More recently, this type of experiential learning, in which one semester or quarter of class time alternates with one of full-time employment, or students work part time as they study, has caught on at the graduate level, too—and perhaps nowhere more strongly than in engineering. . .  Indeed, the leapfrogging of ivory tower with factory floor puts the lessons of each in context so that theory becomes concrete and actual business problems and technical issues inform class discussion.”

While this article from U.S. News and World Report focuses specifically on the phenomenon of co-op education, which allows students to alternate full-time work with a semester of courses, the idea of using professional experience to inform and enhance the classroom experience is exactly the concept behind MEM’s three year experience requirement. “The main reason I chose Northwestern’s MEM program over other online MEM programs is because I wanted to physically network with other management-leaning engineers,” states current, first year MEM student Christopher Brown. While some student enter a Masters degree program directly after earning their bachelor’s degree, the required work experience at Northwestern means that students know what skills and techniques they can use in the work force. For part-time students working full-time during the day, this benefit means they can begin applying new skills immediately. As alumni Jake Wilson pointed out in a post last year, by applying new skills in the work place, he was able to earn a promotion within two years of starting the MEM program, was awarded incentives to keep up his good work, and was even offered a new position in the company while they were experiencing massive layoffs. The benefits of working with experienced students and professors speak for themselves.

McCormick News Article