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Rebecca Carriveau and Barry Nelson

MEM helps engineers broaden their perspective

Rebecca Carriveau began researching grad­uate school options assuming she would pursue an MBA. After working several years as a manufacturing engineer and operations manager, Carriveau — who graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is director of DBS (Danaher Business System) for KaVo Dental Corporation — found herself gaining more responsibility and wanted to increase her understanding of the business as a whole. While researching programs at Northwestern, she discovered McCormick’s Master of Engineering Management Program. “Given my background and what I wanted to do in my career, the combination of managerial and technical disciplines was ideal,” she says.

The MEM program is designed for engineers who find themselves at this stage in their careers — needing to build their managerial skills but wishing to remain connected to the technical side of the business. “We make you both a better engineer and a better manager,” says Barry Nelson, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and director of the program. “We provide engineering tools that can be used for making management decisions as well as an enhanced understanding of the role of each function in a company.”

This approach allowed Carriveau to learn more about the other divisions in her corporation. “It gives you enough of an understanding to be able to speak the language,” she explains. “I have no experience as an accountant, but now I can converse with our accounting department. As you deal with more parts of the corporation, it helps to understand where they’re coming from and to know the lingo.”

As a trained engineer, Carriveau appreciated the experience and technical focus of her classmates. “The program assumes a level of technical knowledge,” she says, contrasting it with MBA programs. In fact, MEM students must have at least three years of experience in industry to be eligible for the program. “You don’t have to spend time on technical issues in class, which means you can concentrate on strategic issues and cover more subjects.”

As Carriveau progressed through the MEM program, she found many of her classes were helping her along the way. At one point she started a new position job in procurement while taking a class on negotiations — one that she found very helpful when dealing with contracts.

“The things that we teach are immediately useful,” Nelson explains. “A common experience for our faculty is that someone wants to come in early for class to talk about something they discussed and how they can apply that concept to their company. Our classes are very practice oriented.”

Carriveau held three different positions at Danaher (KaVo’s parent company) and even got married while she was completing the program — experiences that helped her appreciate the program’s flexibility. Students are free to take time off or adjust their class load. Carriveau took two quarters off but was able to double up on classes during other quarters. All told, it will have taken her three years to complete the program when she graduates in June. “For a working professional, I can’t imagine an easier program in terms of staff support, flexibility, and schedule,” she says.