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Engineering leaders, business strategists

May 13, 2020
UBC MEL Business Leader Business Strategist

Engineering leaders, business strategists

Many engineering professionals arrive at a point in their career when a post-graduate degree is the next logical step. The question then becomes: which degree is the right one? This can be a difficult question for many engineers who excel in solving complex technical issues yet also thrive on running projects, leading teams and setting business strategy.

Conventional options are either a master’s degree in engineering or business. Both have their strengths and advantages. Yet each one can also feel limiting – requiring professionals to choose between enhancing their technical knowledge or learning how to be an effective and inspiring business leader.

This was certainly the case for Neha Bedi, a student in the Dependable Software Systems 2019 cohort who wasn’t interested in a traditional MSc or MBA.

“I didn’t want to give up my technical strengths to move into straight managerial roles,” she says. “I wanted a program that would increase my technical knowledge and position me to lead teams and work directly with clients.”

The Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) offers the best of both worlds, bringing together graduate-level coursework in the UBC Faculty of Applied Science with graduate-level business classes through UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School.

The engineering courses go both deep and broad, enabling students to acquire the latest technical knowledge while gaining insight into the multidisciplinary issues facing their industry. The business courses offer a strong foundation in strategy, management and leadership. Taught through case studies and collaborative hands-on learning, these courses provide a solid grounding in the latest research and best practices.

Being able to move seamlessly between the technical and business sides of an organization brings distinct advantages. “I realized early on in my career how important it is for engineers to be able to speak the language of business,” says Charles Lankester, a student in the High Performance Buildings 2019 cohort. “If you were pitching an optimization project to management, you had a better chance of success if you presented the business case for bottom-line returns.”

Many MEL graduates find that their hybrid skills help them to stand out in a highly competitive job market. “I had a lot of positive feedback from organizations about the MEL,” says Mohammed Abdelaziz, also a 2019 graduate of the High Performance Buildings program.

“Many companies see hiring an MEL graduate as getting two for the price of one – getting a senior engineer and a senior business professional, all in one person.”

Academic Director Dr. Tamara Etmannski concurs. “Our students tell us they have the best of both engineering and business, and their career paths after graduating attest to the value of the MEL. By integrating business and technical knowledge, the programs equip our graduates with the skills to contribute their engineering know-how, motivate teams, lead change, communicate with colleagues from all areas of their organization and achieve their professional goals.”

For many engineers, there’s a clear sense of pride that comes from developing innovative solutions to complex technical problems. Being able to maintain that involvement while advancing in their career is essential. Great engineers also know that their ability to be leaders within their industry requires expertise in areas beyond engineering.

As Vikram Yadav, the program director for the Sustainable Process Engineering program, says, “the most innovative ideas will not make a difference if they are not implemented. We need to ensure that our students have not only the in-depth technical knowledge to come up with new ways of doing things, but that they also have the business and leadership skills to make a business case, understand the practical issues of deployment and scaling-up, and inspire others to reach for the same ambitious goals.”

What graduates of the 12-month Master of Engineering Leadership have discovered is that there is a way to enhance their technical skills and move into management, leadership or entrepreneurship positions. The MEL degree truly does offer the best of both worlds, enabling its graduates to become more effective engineers through their understanding of business strategy, change management and leadership.