Enhancing Engineering Education through Engineering Management

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Abstract

Engineering Management courses are added to a traditional engineering curriculum to enhance the value of an undergraduate’s engineering degree. A four-year engineering degree often leaves graduates lacking in business and management acumen. Engineering management education covers topics enhancing the value of new graduates by teaching management skills that are immediately applicable. Thermodynamics or circuits or heat transfer may not be immediately useful to an engineering graduate. Companies often use software (or software versions) unfamiliar to a graduate or their specialization requires a lengthy break-in period. Team building using personality inventories or behavioral profiling or conflict resolution techniques are immediately applicable in any work setting. Project management and engineering economics are applicable if tailored to a particular engineering genre or workplace environment. A coordinated set of courses designed to give a student a lead over other workplace entrants has been shown to enhance the likelihood of a person being hired based on feedback from employers, alumni, and advisory boards.Keywords: Economics, team, interviewing, management, performance, reviews, personality, inventories, business, practicalIntroductionThe roots of engineering management education at Vanderbilt date back to the mid- 1960s,when Robert Garner, a Board of Trustees member and former president of the World Bank, believed that a need existed for people to be educated in both technology and management in order to better manage the increasingly large and complex industrial and government projects. Thus the first engineering management professor was hired and charged with designing a curriculum that contained quantitative methods, applied economics, and organizational theory. A psychiatrist was hired to teach applied behavioral science, then defined as the study of the human problems associated with the task of managing, or simply to “teach students how people feel about themselves and their jobs” (Jacobs, 1975). The graduate program was offered two years later and was “designed for the mature, experienced engineer- the average age [was] 32-and it [led] to the Master of Science degree” (Jacobs, 1975). The graduate program also contained a one-year internship where students applied their classroom work in a real-world industrial setting and then returned to campus to analyze their findings and prepare their theses. By 1970 engineering management was its own department offering undergraduate and graduate courses-arguably some of the most popular in the School of Engineering at the time.For nearly 40 years Vanderbilt University has maintained the importance of enhancing traditional undergraduate engineering education by offering unique courses of study in engineering management. In a 1994 Frontiers in Education conference proceedings, the founding director of the formal management of technology minor program (in place since 1991) argued that, “the successful development and implementation of advanced technologies will require scientific and engineering excellence, and also effective technology management. (p. 375)” He also argued that issues involving “strategic planning, financial feasibility, the availability and cost of raw materials, innovative product development, human resources, project management, and the global competitive environment” (p. 375). must be considered when determining what the management of technology entails and how an academic program should be constructed.During this time it was determined that about 50% of Vanderbilt’s engineering undergraduates reached management positions within five years of graduation. This realization solidified the hypothesis that, especially at Vanderbilt, management education was important to preparing engineering students for their future careers.The management of technology minor, as it was called then, was designed to provide students with a fundamental working knowledge of business processes, decision making, and problem solving strategies as they relate to high-tech enterprises.