Gordon Institute consults with industry leaders

Local industry leaders came together this fall to serve on the first Industrial Advisory Council (IAC) for Tufts’ Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) program, aiming to provide curricular guidance and be used as a means of communication between industry leaders and the program.

For administrators at the Tufts Gordon Institute (TGI), Tufts’ center for engineering leadership that runs the MSEM program as well as two undergraduate minors, the council is the culmination of a nearly two-year process spent assembling the council.

The council, which will meet twice a year, is comprised of industry leaders at engineering-related companies. These companies sponsor employees to complete the MSEM program, according to TGI Director Robert Hannemann.

“The industry advisory council … is primarily focused on getting direct feedback from our industry partners on what is missing from a classic engineering education, what they would like to see their employees do better,” Hannemann said. “The Gordon Institute’s customers are [its] students, but a key stakeholder in all that is industry.”

The MSEM program, which has been accredited since 1991 and an official part of Tufts University since 1992, aims to give technically skilled engineers the tools to become leaders in their companies. Currently, about 120 students are enrolled in the program, and most of them hold full-time jobs in local industry. Hannemann and his associates at TGI are looking to the council to help keep the MSEM curriculum up to date and in line with what is expected of employees in leadership positions at the council members’ companies.

“The world of industry is changing quickly, and the needs that companies have is also changing,” he said. “So we want to be responsive to that stakeholder, and getting direct interaction with leaders in local companies will allow us to do that.”

The two-year selection process culminated with their first three-hour meeting and dinner late last September, Hannemann said.

Christopher George, vice president of manufacturing at Axcelis Technologies, Inc., said he agreed to join the council after putting several employees through the MSEM program, four of whom are now in leadership roles at Axcelis.

George explained that although his work focuses on semiconductor equipment manufacturing, the other members of the council come from a variety of industries.

“I was very impressed and inspired by their capabilities and their knowledge, experience,” he said. “I think it’s a really, really good group of individuals to help shape the future opportunities at Tufts Gordon Institute.”

Hannemann agreed that having a variety of advisors is important, because MSEM students and graduates work for companies in many different fields, from solar energy to biopharmaceuticals.

“It really is representative of the demographics of the employers of our students,” he said of the makeup of the council.

Draper Laboratory, represented on the council by Vice President of Engineering John Dowdle, is sponsoring its employee Adam Wilson (E ’04), who is in his second year of the MSEM program.

As an electronics engineer and technical lead at Draper, Wilson encountered problems he could not solve with technical understanding.

“I learned a lot of great things at Tufts [as an undergrad] about electrical engineering, about how to perform Fourier transforms and how to solve RC circuits, but what you don’t learn is how to work in a team and how to make sure you’re personally being efficient,” he said. “There are all these nontechnical things … that you really don’t get in undergrad in the technical studies.”

Although Wilson spoke highly of his experience in the MSEM program, he explained that the IAC could be helpful in making his and future MSEM students’ education more relevant to their workplace.

“Like any school or program, there’s room for improvement,” he said. “But I think they certainly have a solid foundation of course material, and the professors are outstanding. They all come from industry too.”

Although the first meeting was mostly an introduction to the program and some discussion of the importance of workplace communications, George said he was pleased with the progress they have already made. However, he hopes to discuss the importance of job creation at the next meeting in March, as well as the role of MSEM graduates at their companies once they complete the program.

“After we spent that time or energy to sponsor a candidate to the Tufts Gordon Institute, how do we keep them engaged when they return?” George said.

Hannemann posits that council members will see benefits of working with TGI beyond the improved education of their own employees.

“Executives at that level frequently do want to give back in terms of their participation in an important part of society: education,” he said. “So contributing to what we’re doing at Tufts is something that they’re willing to give their time for.”