Seeing the Benefit of My MEM Education

Prior to graduating from Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) part-time program, Michael Morris reflects on how he's incorporated his classroom experiences into his full-time job.

Michael Morris is an electrical engineer at Greeley and Hansen, where he helps develop innovative engineering, architectural and management solutions for all types of complex water, wastewater, water reuse, and solid waste challenges.  

Prior to his current role, he worked as a project associate for Sargent & Lundy, an engineering consultancy that specializes in services for complex power generation and power transmission projects. It was at Sargent & Lundy that he began thinking about Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. Morris knew several coworkers who were enrolled in the MEM part-time program, and as he began hearing more about it, he realized it was a perfect option for him.

Now, as Morris (MEM '19) prepares to graduate, he took a few minutes to look back on his experience and how he's already been able to take what he's learned in the classroom and apply it to his work at Greeley and Hansen.

What was it about MEM that first appealed to you?  

I appreciated the business curriculum applied specifically to engineers, and I was intrigued by the approach. Prior to starting, I conversed with some of my coworkers from Sargent and Lundy that were attending the program. I was looking for a degree that would provide specialized business training, and I was looking for a different career path from my then career track as a technical expert. I also respected the Northwestern University brand, and it seemed like a great opportunity.

How would you describe your experience in the program?  

The program completely transformed my understanding of how businesses work. Prior to attending the program, I was working as a technical lead, managing budgets and schedules for some large projects. I only understood my immediate role as a consultant, and I didn't identify business operations beyond my company's role as an external resource to a utility. Through the program, I gained tremendous insight into how all departments interact to perform the core and ancillary activities that contribute to a company's product and bottom line. I am now able to step back and examine interactions between economies, companies, and divisions of companies.  

The program provided my instruction in a way that was generally tailored toward an analytical and system-oriented approach, which meshed well with my engineering training. I was able to learn in great depth about not only traditional business administration subject matter, but also the emerging business capabilities of technical entrepreneurship and data analytics as well as process management.   

What are two or three of the most important lessons you've learned during your time in the program?

Deep networking, mostly through NUvention, is a skill that I needed to quickly understand emerging opportunities in energy and waste handling. Negotiations class taught me the critical skill of effective negotiation, which is often overlooked as part of core business competency. I also learned how to leverage analytics effectively through the Managerial Analytics course, which taught me how to properly apply data and statistics to make effective decisions.

What were two or three highlights for you from your time in the program?  

Through NUvention Energy I conceptualized and refined plans for two great companies with a great group of students. I also was able to attend a lecture by Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, which I found to be extremely exciting and insightful. Finally, I was able to work on the MEM Curriculum Review Committee, which allowed me to reach out to other students and try to strengthen Northwestern University's MEM program and advance the MEM brand overall.

What are you going to be doing after graduation?  

I plan on continuing to work with Greeley and Hansen. I have already seen tremendous advancement in my interactions with clients, management, business development, strategy, and operations management. I also plan to continue to develop my career with them in the water industry. Greeley and Hansen was a big part of my journey through MEM, and I am thankful for that assistance.

How do you think you'll be able to apply what you learned in MEM to your professional career?

I already have applied much of it. I am able to refine processes, identify client needs, strategize positioning for marketing, and network deeply to identify new trends and potential business opportunities for my company.

What advice would you give a prospective MEM student?  

I advise incoming students to be open to the learning process. Don't worry about grades or feeling safe. Treat the classroom as a business lab, and make mistakes. Utilize your student network and the greater Northwestern network. Try NUvention — there isn't a better way to learn creatively applying strategy, networking, and marketing than creating a tech company.

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