Celebrating 40 Years of MEM

MEM Director Mark Werwath looks back on lessons learned from the anniversary event — and the program’s history.

The Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

By Mark Werwath

Last month, the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program celebrated its 40th anniversary, and the event was a huge success.

With about 100 attendees, we actually had to set up extra tables to accommodate everyone who made it. We had corporate guests, students, alumni, faculty and members of the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society in attendance.

Our guest speaker, Professor John Rogers, showcased his groundbreaking research, and at the same time really highlighted the linkage between technology development and business development. He did an amazing job of illustrating the value proposition of MEM — the unique value that engineers and technologists can bring to the marketplace of ideas, products and platforms.

Many of the technologies Professor Rogers described in his talk and previously developed have immediate commercial applications. These are radical innovations in many cases that create whole new products, classes of products and even new industries. In essence, each is a bundle of commercial opportunities ready to be developed.

Having so many special MEM people in the room, and having Professor Barry Nelson (past director of MEM) describe some of the history of the program really brought to mind how things have changed for MEM. In fact, the last year has seen more curricular innovation for MEM than the initial 10 years. Some examples include:

  • One of the first SCRUM certification workshops held on campus
  • One of the first course offerings combining Internet of Things with business opportunities,
  • One of the first courses in product management offered for credit and delivered by a former Google product manager
  • One of the first course offerings that combines entrepreneurship with analytics and Internet of Things.

All of these innovations will become either for credit or non-credit offerings in the future.

While MEM at Northwestern continues to innovate and provide new examples of how technology can enable innovation in business models and platform offerings, it is good to know that the tenets of MEM not only distinguish us from traditional MBA programs but also trace back to our original roots.

Many of us in academia are trying to solve the commercialization problem, and we all address it in various ways. For MEM, we start with the premise that trained, practicing technologists who are comfortable and familiar with the principles of business can achieve great things in the marketplace by leveraging lean startup principles. While this is an ambitious premise, we have all seen examples of how great technologists can become great entrepreneurs. If you doubt this, t.

This article would not be complete without acknowledgement of Al Rubenstein, the founding director of MEM at Northwestern, and his vision for the program. Al was a scholar and researcher of organizations and R&D organizations in particular. He was well respected in many circles, but first and foremost in the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society, where he was a founding editor-in-chief of the Transactions journal.

Rubenstein’s specialty and expertise helped his students navigate the complex and contradictory world of R&D. Before I took Professor Rubenstein’s class, I was an operations person, working in a factory and improving processes. Thanks to Professor Rubenstein, I entered and mastered the crazy world of R&D, spent 25 years in that world and never turned back. For me, MEM allowed me to realize a dream that was probably not attainable any other way. I can only hope that MEM has had as much of an impact on our student’s careers as it has on mine.

If you have a story you would like to share about how MEM impacted your career, please share it with us!