Two Decades of Growth: The Master of Engineering Management Program Turns 20

Celebrating 20 Years - Duke MEMP

MEMP continues to evolve to meet student, industry needs

By Jeni Baker

When founding director F. Hadley Cocks spearheaded the creation and 1997 launch of the Pratt School’s Master of Engineering Management Program (MEMP), he wanted to create a smooth transition for engineering students who wished to pursue careers in the business and management sides of the field.

“Many engineering students have these goals, but most business schools require applicants to have several years of work experience to be considered for admission – meaning that engineers would have to interrupt their careers to go to business school,” says Cocks, who modeled Duke’s program after the one at Dartmouth College.

“I believed our students would benefit from a one-year* program immediately after graduation that teaches them to manage money, people, and projects.”

Cocks was right. During his seven years as director, the program grew steadily and many other engineering schools have since developed similar programs.

To date, more than 1,600 students have earned MEM degrees at Duke.

Here’s a brief look at the program’s first 20 years.

Components of Success

The ongoing evolution and success of Duke’s MEM Program can be attributed to a number of factors, including these.

Industry-Based Faculty, Relevant Courses

“A hallmark of Duke’s program is its close interaction with industry,” says Jeff Glass, MEM Faculty Director since 2003. “That interaction – as well as the number of companies we work with – has grown dramatically over the years.”

So has the number of faculty. There are currently 17 MEMP faculty members, a number of whom have been recognized nationally and/or within the School of Engineering.

“Because our faculty have vast experience in their fields of interest and a passion for sharing their expertise with students, they focus on keeping courses relevant to what’s happening in industry and the skills needed in tomorrow’s organizations,” Glass says.

“With guidance from both industry partners and students, faculty develop new courses and concentrations as needed and share best teaching practices with one another. And because many more courses offered by other Duke schools are now open to our students, they regularly take multidisciplinary classes across the university.”

An Array of Electives and Options

“Flexibility has always been one of the keys to the MEM Program’s growth and success,” says Susan Brown, assistant director of admissions.

“We now offer options for both traditional and non-traditional students – including dual-degree seekers, part-timers, distance and exchange students, and U.S. Navy officers – as well as a wide variety of technical electives that allow students to tailor the MEM degree to their interests and goals.”

Feedback from a 2004 alumni survey led the MEMP to add more electives, says Brad Fox, the program’s executive director since 2003.

“This has been one of our most significant areas of growth,” Fox says. “We now offer 20-plus electives, which enables students to focus on concentrations such as Data and Decisions, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialization, and Operations and Supply Chain Management.”

Student-Faculty Partnership

The Master of Engineering Management Program Development Committee (MEMPDC) is a student organization founded in 2005 to foster communication and partnership with administrators.

“Our students have created a culture of being partners in program development and improvements,” says Glass. “The MEMPDC makes recommendations on how to help the program evolve and supports many co-curricular student clubs and activities that foster the development of professional skills.”

Online Applications, More Global Students

The 2008 rollout of an online MEMP application led to a significant jump in both the number and geographic scope of applicants, as well as more students accepted to the program, says Brown.

“We started seeing more international students and welcomed Fulbright candidates from around the world,” she says. “Our class sizes steadily rose – from 70 to 90 to 130...to as high as 155 in 2009.”

Classes are now limited to a more manageable 130-140 students, while the percentage of global students has continued to grow.

“About 75 percent of our current students are from outside the U.S., and we typically see 20 or more countries represented in our class profiles,” says Brown.

Distance Learning

The two-year Distributed Master of Engineering Management Program (d-MEMP), an online distance-learning program, was launched in August 2009 to meet the rising demand for engineering management degrees among working professionals who don’t want to lose career momentum or leave their jobs, says Director of Professional Masters Programs La Tondra Murray.

The d-MEMP curriculum is based on that of the campus MEM Program, and is unique in that it includes three week-long, on-campus residency requirements in addition to remote coursework.

Eleven students made up the first d-MEMP cohort. The cohorts now typically comprise 25 to 30 distance learners – and have a matriculation rate of nearly 90 percent.

Cultural Support for International Students

“Our large number of international learners requires cultural awareness, support, and integration,” says Glass. “Our Industrial Advisory Board has stressed that students must be able to work effectively across all types of cultural boundaries, especially in diverse international teams.”

Bridget Fletcher, director of communication and intercultural programs, has developed a number of activities and initiatives to help students optimize both their experience and their performance.

“When I arrived in 2007, students had a three-hour orientation and jumped right into coursework,” Fletcher says.

“They weren’t prepared for success in the program in several capacities, including a basic understanding of who their classmates were. With students coming from multiple countries with diverse educational backgrounds, they often lacked a framework for communications with each other.”

Over the past ten years, Fletcher has developed a comprehensive student orientation; activities during the academic year to promote community and positive intercultural interactions; intercultural communications seminars and workshops; and an internal ESL program for students.

She also established visits to China and India to meet with incoming students.

“These visits have led to a much more engaged and acclimated student population,” she says. “Incoming students now know that our staff are trustworthy and can proactively provide them with information that will make their orientation and time at Duke far less daunting.”

Career Services

The MEMP’s Career Services team has evolved to provide more comprehensive support for students at all stages of their graduate experience – and now includes an academic coordinator and three dedicated career counselors.

“A lot of transformation occurs between orientation and graduation, and our Career Services team works very hard to meet student needs,” Murray says.

This has included greatly expanding its professional-development services, says Glass.

“Since there were no Career Center activities focused on engineering masters students when the MEM Program began, this has been a significant and positive change,” he says.

The Program Then and Now

Now one of the nation’s largest and leading programs of its kind, Duke’s MEM Program started small.

“I have the utmost respect for Hadley’s vision and the many contributions he made to start this program on its upward trajectory,” says Instructor C.J. Skender, who has been involved with the MEMP since its inception.

“In addition, the leadership and administrative support of everyone involved through the years has been phenomenal.”

Because he teaches a core combination finance/accounting course and a popular elective, Skender has taught nearly every MEMP student.

“Our students are truly excited to be here, they love to learn, and their work ethic and commitment to excellence is consistently strong.”

Click here for more news about Duke’s MEM Program.

* Although originally designed to be completed in 12 months, about 75 percent of MEM students now spend three semesters at Duke to complete their degrees.

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