New engineering management graduate program pulls alumni interest

Liz Zabel

The Board of Regents recently approved a new graduate program for Iowa State’s College of Engineering: engineering management.

Designed to accommodate engineering graduates who are working professionals in the industry, this online-based, 30-credit graduate degree is expected to begin accepting applicants this upcoming spring semester.

Douglas Gemmill, associate professor in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, was one of the primary advocates for the new program. He was hearing suggestions from local companies, such as Rockwell Collins, John Deere and Caterpillar, for a new program addressing both the technical side of engineering and management side of business to help with career advancement for employees.

Last fall, Gemmill began discussing ideas with Gary Mirka, associate dean of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering (who, at the time, was department chairman of industrial engineering), to develop such a program.

Mirka had been hearing from alumni and the industry advisory councils that having a degree program providing management style training for engineers would be very valuable.

“The people from industry, our graduates … are finding that they are being asked to do management tasks and really haven’t had any kind of training,” Mirka said. “This program gives those graduates the kind of training that they need.”

Companies were looking for a professional degree for their engineers besides an MBA that still had a management component, Gemmill said. They were looking for a professional degree combining both engineering and management so that engineers could move up the ladder into technical management positions.

With the input from local industry and ISU alumni, Gemmill and Mirka began to design a program to match what companies and students were looking for. The two worked with the College of Business to create a program balanced between the two colleges.

To really get the program up and running, the College of Engineering needed to hire someone to lead the new program. Paul Componation, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, was hired to fill big shoes as lead of the brand new department.

“I was excited about coming here because a lot of programs you’ll have very few faculty supporting it,” Componation said. “Here we have two of us in engineering alone, plus the College of Business … so we have enough critical mass to really get a program up and running quickly.”

Componation said he has a lot of experience with making programs grow, coming from one of the top three engineering management programs in the country at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Ala.

“I think he has unique capabilities, because he’s been involved in engineering management [for 15 years],” Gemmill said. “He’s going to bring a lot of expertise we didn’t have.”

Componation said one of the unique things about Iowa State’s program is the “balanced approach.” Most engineering management programs focus heavily on engineering curriculum alone, he said, where Iowa State is taking the best of both the engineering and business colleges.

“One of the nice things about Iowa State, too, is they have a strong commitment to the student, more than most universities,” Componation said. “That means you have a lot more freedom to try things here, if you can show it’s going to help the student and help the learning. … You want the students to be well educated but also trained so they can get out and get a job. They’re learning something in the classroom that’s going to make a difference.”

The engineering industry, Componation said, is looking for strong engineering technical skills, management skills, entrepreneurial skills and leadership skills. He said he believes the engineering management degree addresses those four items.

“I think an engineering management degree gives you the ability to continue to advance in either a technical career or management career,” Componation said.

Componation said he really sees the potential in this program.

“For an academic, there’s nothing more exciting than starting a new program. It’s a new field, and you can watch it grow and develop,” he said.

Even though the program was announced only weeks ago, Gemmill is already receiving emails showing interest in the program.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t really grow,” Gemmill said.