Bringing Executive Experience to MEM

As Executive in Residence, Mark Johnson has a unique opportunity to work with MEM students. Discover what he believes sets MEM students apart from other students he's mentored.

Mark Johnson loves when students ask questions. It's how he knows they aren't complacent. 

Johnson, the Executive in Residence (EIR) in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program, is finding that inquisitive spirit in abundance among MEM students.  

Mark Johnson“Asking questions is the basis of all learning,” Johnson said. “Become an expert at asking questions, not just knowing answers.”

Johnson has a career steeped in asking and answering engineering questions that dates back over five decades. During that time, he has founded two clean-energy startups, consulted with the company that invented the thermostat, and worked with the US Department of Energy to deploy multi-billion-dollar funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in 2,500 cities, counties, states, and tribes.

The EIR position is designed to be filled by a respected senior leader in the technology community who can serve as a resource for students inside and outside the classroom. In this role, Johnson mentors students and guides them through hands-on industry projects.  

Johnson hosts office hours, lectures in MEM courses, and shares his expertise with students and helps them mold their futures. He said he has been impressed by what he sees in the MEM students who come to him. 

“The deep engineering and technical expertise, extreme intelligence, and hard-work ethic are the MEM differentiators,” he said. “MEM students’ education enables them to embrace technical questions, answers, and capabilities.”

Helping students overcome intimidation of high-profile, high-dollar, highly technical projects is a big part of Johnson’s role as an EIR. His job is to give students the confidence to take their existing knowledge, couple it with the MEM program’s practical lessons, and use that combination to ask the right questions of the customers and executives with whom they work.

That link between existing knowledge and hands-on education through the MEM program helps set MEM students apart from other master’s graduates, he said. It also gives Johnson a sense of purpose in his role.

“MEM students learn to talk, question, listen, and analyze with customers to gain insights and feedback, which is a shock to many students,” Johnson said. “My value is to facilitate, introduce, host, and encourage this communication.” 

Johnson is working with students on a variety of projects, all touching on clean energy and sustainability. They include:

  • An analysis of newly engineered solar storage electric vehicle charging stations 
  • An exploration of public/private partnerships and sustainability education 
  • A financial analysis and operating impact study of rooftop wind turbines 
  • An implementation and funding analysis of thermal energy storage 
  • A waste energy feasibility study assessing city water supply intake as a heat source 

MEM students bring not only the top-notch technical engineering skills to these projects but the business sense to know that all worthwhile projects need to be financially feasible for a company to fully back it, Johnson said.  

“MEM students vet and verify the engineering, plus do an in-depth techno-economic financial analysis showing costs, profits, and paybacks,” he said. “They have hands-on real-world projects to learn collaboration, client relations, and reporting.”  

That puts MEM students in an optimal position when their graduation nears and they look to advance in the workforce, Johnson said.

It’s a position Johnson sees as well-earned, and it makes his job as the EIR much more enjoyable.

“MEM students are positive, proactive and hard-working,” he said. “That makes them a pleasure to work with.”

McCormick News Article