Fuel filling up a car, and several people in suits talking

Fueling the Growth of Project Management

Dana Johnson ’80 leads student teams.

When Dana Johnson ’80 first began teaching at Michigan Tech, she was barely older than her students, many of whom had been her classmates just one year earlier.

After teaching accounting and finance classes from 1981 to 1984, Johnson went to work in industry and academia, returning to the School in 1999 as a professor of operations and supply chain management. Over the course of her career, Johnson has witnessed significant changes in business and university operations—and now, she says, the landscape of business education is changing once more.

Some of the biggest changes, according to Johnson, are happening in the world of project management. “It used to be part of someone’s job responsibilities, but project management has evolved into a profession of its own,” she said. “It’s a growing field."

“I want to make sure that I really know the students—how they perform in class, their work ethic, and where their interests lie.” Dana Johnson '80

It’s growing so quickly, in fact, that the Western Michigan chapter of the global Project Management Institute (PMI) launched an educational initiative designed to bring students into the field. Johnson led that charge and brought Michigan Tech into THE Project, a contest designed to support the growth of project management education and practice in Michigan.

During the competition, each team of students worked with mentors from a specific company to develop a detailed project management plan. They were required to set up meetings, establish a schedule, and develop a targeted plan that worked for their partner company.

Dana Johnson
Dana Johnson

“Because the project management processes were at different stages in each company, the two groups had very different experiences,” said Johnson. “It was an excellent opportunity to take what they learned in class and apply it to a dynamic, real-world situation."

Johnson, who spent twelve years as a business consultant, cannot overemphasize the importance of the professional contacts and practical experience that result from THE Project. “The students who participated in the competition came out with an expanded résumé and a whole new world of career choices,” she said. “Before it started, most of the students didn’t have enough information to even consider project management as an option. Now, they have a valuable skill set that they can use in any job,” she said.

Johnson ensures that her students have opportunities to advance their education. As an advisor and professor, she embraces a highly personalized philosophy to provide in-depth guidance. “I want to make sure that I really know the students—how they perform in class, their work ethic, and where their interests lie,” she says. “If I see students struggling, I’ll ask them to come in, so we can work together to find their niche. Teaching and advising are more than just telling students which classes to take—it’s helping them find a fulfilling and satisfying career."

When she’s not working with students, Johnson conducts research in supply chain management. One major research focus involves the supply chain for alternative energy, focusing on biofuels for the automotive and power industries. In a related area, she is studying logistics and supply issues to develop a market for forest residues. A third project, conducted in partnership with a researcher at Virginia Tech, investigates how change initiatives in a company impact the quality of their products or services. She has published extensively about locating optimal biorefineries and measuring attitudinal variables regarding biofuels.

Johnson, who holds degrees in industrial engineering, industrial technology, and manufacturing engineering, embraces the opportunity to collaborate with researchers in engineering and science departments across campus. “The administration is very supportive, and the University’s small size makes it easy to work with people in other departments,” she says.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.