This issue marks the debut of On the Table, a regular feature highlighting a program or organization in the School of Business and Economics. This issue features the new Engineering Management program, combining the best of technology and business to create a degree generating a ton of buzz. On the Table is an opportunity for current SBE students to meet with faculty and/or industry and converse in a casual setting.
Some of the hallmarks of a Tech education are an aptitude in technology, strength in science, engineering, and mathematics, and comfort working on challenging, complicated problems. In technical careers after college, though, students need to be more than engineers or marketers or employees with just one skill-set. Corporations need product managers, project managers, quality engineers, and technical salespeople to tell their story and provide the spark of innovation among and between engineers and clients.
The bachelor’s of science in engineering management from the School of Business and Economics is designed to deliver just these sorts of professionals. We sat down with two students currently in the program, as well as an alum whose work is in the nexus of business and technology, to capture their thoughts and feelings about business, technology, their careers, and their hopes for the future.
Snow in the spring isn't unusual in the Keweenaw, and the day of our conversation was one of the snowiest of the season. Still, everyone was able to make the trek to Habañeros restaurant over the bridge in Hancock. One at a time a new person would wander in, and once we were all there, our conversation turned from the weather to the serious business of education. Over baskets of chips and bowls of guacamole and plates of burritos, each guest explained where they are and where they’re going, their ideas building on each other to give us a clearer picture of what engineering management has done for them and what it means beyond the halls of Michigan Tech.
Tony Schwenn holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MS in Business Administration from Tech, and he works for ThermoAnalytics, a leading engineering and software development company formed by Michigan Tech alumni. He explained how, for him, business and technology come together seamlessly to help his customers. “We have to figure out what their pains are,” he said while watching our server prepare the fresh guacamole. “We need to know what the customer needs and how we can help. For me, even though I’m in sales, that would be impossible without an engineering background.”
Madeline Haben, a fifth-year undergrad studying both sports and fitness management and engineering management, could see the two fields coming together and was convinced that fit her just fine. “I definitely like the business side, but I also really like the practicality of engineering,” she said. “I think like an engineer.
Kori Sternik, a second-year transfer student, feels much the same way. “I’m more at home on the engineering side,” she said. “But I see myself as a leader, as part of the team; when I work on projects, I enjoy handling the business side of things.”
How does innovation work between business and engineering? Engineering is, after all, about problem-solving, while business is looking for that edge, that advantage.
“Communication,” Tony and Madeline reply almost simultaneously, Kori nodding in agreement. “They work hand in hand,” Tony goes on to explain. “In sales, we can identify new opportunities, but it takes engineers to identify what is possible.”
“We have to communicate a whole lot, from the customer to the engineer, to break new ground,” he said. Madeline responded, “Communication is sometimes lacking in our projects. But it’s something we focus on, we work on, something both my business classes and engineering classes have emphasized.” She paused looking for the right words. “You know, it’s a gap that can be bridged.”
Kori, in her first year at Tech, has already seen how the different approaches from business and engineering can come together. “In my business classes, everyone sits down and talks through a problem,” she said. “In engineering, most would rather work out a problem on their own, and they come up with all of these incredible solutions. We’re trying to bring those two mentalities together.”
Tony nods in agreement. “Being able to understand how people think and communicate what you need is so important. The communication is so critical to getting the end product you want.”
Madeline has seen this during her Tech education. “In business people collaborate naturally. It’s important to bring that to engineering because engineers and business people are both innovators, creative, striving to reach that next level.” Kori agreed, amazed at how “engineers can just make something out of nothing. They’re as innovative as business people, just in a different way.”
The conversation then turned to internships and travel and plans for the summer, all between bites and sips. We come back around to Tony one more time, asking how he got where he is, why he works in technical sales. “Well,” he said, looking out into the snow and thinking about his path. “You have to be creative to be in either business or engineering, and I’m much more interested in business when it’s on the technical side.
We finished up, the table a collection of empty plates, bowls, glasses. Tony, Madeline, and Kori prepared to make their way back out into the storm. Tony gave both students his contact information, in case they have any questions or need advice. We ventured out into the late winter, and the snow didn’t seem quite so heavy anymore.
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.