M.E.M. Degree Offered In Grand Rapids And Holland

April 20, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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HOLLAND — Western Michigan University offers a Master of Science in Engineering Management — which is sort of like an M.B.A. specifically for working engineers — that has been proclaimed one of the best such graduate degree programs in the United States.

April 23 will provide an opportunity to learn about the program in detail at an open house at Johnson Controls Inc. In addition to its Kalamazoo campus, WMU offers the master’s program in Grand Rapids and Holland, and will soon offer it in Benton Harbor.

"The nice thing about it is that you don't have to have an engineering degree to get into the program," said Deb Newson, director of the Muskegon Campus of Western Michigan University. The prospective student should have a Bachelor of Science degree in a technical field, but that field is not restricted to engineering; it can be in technology, mathematics, computer science or the physical sciences.

She noted that there are still many people employed as engineers at manufacturing companies in West Michigan who don't have a four-year degree in engineering. Working engineers who already have a Bachelor of Science degree in another field may see greater value in getting the master’s degree, especially if they are in engineering management or hoping to work their way into it.

Newson said the master’s degree in engineering management has similarities to an M.B.A., in that it is focused on management of an engineering staff, departmental budgets and other management issues.

In 2004, Western’s M.E.M. program was rated in the top five nationally by the American Society of Engineering Management. In 2005, it had gone higher in the ranking — to second best in the nation. In October 2006, it was named as the best in the country. It also should be noted that in 2006, ASEM named Western’s undergraduate engineering management technology program third best in the nation, in its category.

ASEM studied variables including enrollment and the activity level of student societies at various institutions that offer a master’s in engineering management, plus faculty activity in conducting and publishing research, and feedback from alumni and their employers.

Brad Walbridge is a senior manufacturing engineer in quality assurance at ODL Inc. in Zeeland, which manufactures decorative glass doors and windows, skylights and other products for the home.

Walbridge, 35, earned his M.E.M. degree from WMU last December, having already earned a Bachelor of Science in manufacturing engineering there in 1997. He said the work he did on the master’s degree taught him a great deal about the different types of management styles, and he feels it added to his value as an employee.

"I think it is possibly going to open some avenues as I grow in this organization," said Walbridge.

Walbridge was greatly impressed with the WMU engineering faculty, especially Larry Mallak and David Lyth, who maintain contact with former students to monitor the latest trends in the workplace.

"They are very good at networking with (former students) after we've graduated," said Walbridge.

Walbridge started his work on the master’s degree in 2004, when he was employed at Johnson Controls in Holland. The classes in Holland are held in the evenings at Johnson Controls, and most of the cost of tuition was covered as an employee benefit, both at Johnson Controls and later when he went to work at ODL Inc.

No other school in West Michigan offers a master’s in engineering management degree. It is offered in southeast Michigan at Oakland University, the University of Detroit Mercy, University of Michigan at Dearborn, Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University.

WMU's M.E.M. classes are limited to 25 students and are designed for working people, being held one evening a week for about three hours, for 12 weeks. Newson said hundreds of people have earned the degree since the university began offering it in the early 1990s.

"It is perfect for people who are working, because you are dealing with topics that people are working with every day, too: developing leadership skills, managing money, people and projects — it’s a blending of engineering and management."

"You also get to interact with people from different companies, so you'll see how other people do things, too."

Newsome said anyone interested in attending the open house at Johnson Controls from 1-4 p.m. April 23 to learn more about the M.E.M. program should RSVP by calling Joanne Vandenberg at Muskegon Community College: (231) 777-0500.

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