Recognizing the Value of a MEM Degree

Adjunct faculty member Jeff Lefebvre discusses the Engineering Management course he's taught for 24 years and the importance of combining engineering education with business knowledge.

One of the most common questions the Northwestern Master of Engineering Management (MEM) admissions team hears is how to explain the difference between a MEM and a MBA. To Jeff Lefebvre, the difference is clear.  

"MEM is a great choice for engineers. There are too many MBAs, so you're not differentiated enough," said Lefebvre, who taught as an adjunct faculty member in MEM for the past 24 years. "MEM blends graduate-level engineering content with graduate-level business content. I can't think of a better combination for engineers looking to be successful and make a difference." 

Lefebvre began teaching MEM's Engineering Management course in 1997. Since then, he's helped hundreds of students develop business plans and execute them over several simulated years of competition by using a computerized business simulation. As part of the course, students compete in a dynamic marketplace for market share and profitability as they make decisions across different functional areas of their business, including marketing, research and development, production, distribution, and finance.

Lefebvre is stepping away from MEM this year, but the course and its foundational lessons will continue.

"Business is not complex," Lefebvre said. "Business finance is not complex, but you need to know business to be relevant and influential."

Lefebvre will devote more of his time to PriSim Business War Games, a management education and consulting firm he founded that in many ways acts as the Engineering Management course. The company is dedicated to empowering organizations by strengthening employee knowledge. He uses models and business simulations to help clients improve their understanding of the business environment and their ability to adapt to changes in this environment.

Lefebvre may be leaving MEM, but he offered four pieces of parting advice to MEM students, as well as prospective students considering the program:

"Work first, don't come straight out of undergrad," he said. "You need real-world experience to get the most from MEM. Challenge your professors to make their content relevant to the working engineer. Always network, and don't assume MEM is your ticket once you're done. Your success is still a function of your output, not your diploma. 

"Lastly, challenge the pure-business types with 'why,' and don't accept fancy-talk answers. If there are reasons for a decision, they can't be that complicated to explain."

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