Brandon Jones Crafts Career from Life Experiences, Personal Interests

March 15, 2005

If he had the chance to give advice, Charlotte, North Carolina, native Brandon Jones would tell fellow students to make the most of their time at Duke by getting involved. "There is just so much to do here, and I love that you can be interested and involved in many different areas," said Jones, who graduated in 2004 with a B.S. double major in biomedical and electrical engineering, and then entered the Master of Engineering Management Program (MEM).

As an undergrad, Jones was a crew leader and climbing director for the Wilderness Initiatives for Learning at Duke (WILD) program, and a teaching fellow with Techtronics, a middle-school outreach program sponsored by Burroughs Wellcome designed to help young students develop an interest in pursuing engineering careers. He was also a volunteer emergency medical technician, providing basic life support to Duke University Medical Center and surrounding areas.

"I loved the instant gratification of teaching, getting to see the kids react, learn and really understand. You could see their interest grow and their behaviors changes," said Jones, enthusiasm evidence in his shining eyes and hand gestures.

Through the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program, Jones is learning to apply the problem solving thinking style he gained as an undergraduate engineer to the large-scale problems of business and industry.

Jones started the MEM program as an intern with Duke's Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications. His team's task was to create "machine vision"—a means for helping machines interpret activity in the surrounding environment.

In just three weeks, the student team used their knowledge about optical, acoustic and electrical components to build an inexpensive sensor network that uses non-visual data such as heat and sound. The team then further modified the design for an outdoor perimeter tracking application, which is being studied in the Duke Forest. After enhancing the system's intelligence to conduct complex triangulations and remote data transmission, Jones's team presented their research at the 24th Army Science Conference in Orlando, FL. The project is ongoing as part of a larger National Security Agency grant focused on tracking and identifying individuals without the use of imaging or human interpretation.

In addition to his tracking research, Jones and another student team are in the process of developing a student design technology with a medical safety application. Encouraged by an extremely positive response from Duke University Medical Center Safety Committee, they are investigating commercial opportunities for this technology and are competing for venture capital funding in the 2005 Duke Start-up Challenge. The competition requires each team to prepare a full business plan and marketing assessment of their technology and present their case to venture capitalists.

In addition, Jones has been selected to take part in the New Venture Fellows program in Spring ‘05, where he will partner with second year MBA students to analyze and develop commercialization opportunities for inventions from the School of Medicine or the Pratt School of Engineering. "I'm excited about the challenge of working on two different business plans at the same time," said Jones.

The MEM curriculum was recently enhanced to provide students with more application based coursework to choose from for their technical electives. One of these electives is Operations Management taught by Assistant Professor Gurhan Kok from the Fuqua School of Business. Jones and his classmates work together to evaluate open-ended industry case studies, and then figure out what to do. "It's exactly what I'll face in the real world," he said. "There are no set guidelines, and there is more than one way to succeed or fail."

Through the MEM program's courses, internship, seminar series and extracurricular activities, Jones has been able to develop his engineering knowledge to address current problems. "I've been able to interact with people at all levels of engineering, university and medical school administration and research," he said. "It's been a fantastic entrance and really reinforces the need to be able to work well in teams of people with differing expertise."

Soft spoken, and naturally a little shy, Jones said that learning how to network—and feel comfortable doing it—has been one of the most challenging aspects of the MEM program. "I running up my networking skills this year," he said. "And that is giving me a better comfort level for interviews."

After graduation in May 2005, Jones plans to work in industry or consulting—possibly in a new company that he helps to spin off from Duke.