Engineering program honored

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Engineering program honored

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By Alexandra Malloy, News Editor 

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recently recognized Simon Pitts, a professor of practice in engineering leadership and the director of the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership, and Michael Silevitch, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a Robert D. Black distinguished professor, for their role and influence within Northeastern’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Program (GEL).

“I’m very honored by it,” Silevitch said. “The fact that the National Academy of Engineering identified this program as an exemplary program in terms of fostering leadership was extremely humbling for me.”

The NAE presented the program with the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for developing an innovative way to provide graduate engineering students with the necessary skills to become effective engineering leaders, as stated by the NAE in a press release on Jan. 8.

The GEL is a graduate curriculum offered through the College of Engineering. The program selects a number of candidates to pursue the GEL in combination with a Master of Science degree.

“The goal of the Gordon Institute and Leadership Program is to transform good engineers to great engineering leaders,” Pitts said. “GEL recognizes the need to develop engineering leaders who can develop a vision, articulate it and then motivate a diverse team of cross-functional engineers to realize that vision in a real-world competitive environment.”

The program is comprised of leadership capabilities, leadership laboratories, product development, scientific principles and the challenge project. Silevitch notes that the program accelerates the traditional period of time it takes to become a multidisciplinary engineering leader, typically six to 15 years, to five or six years.

“They have to understand teamwork and the development of a complex project, which requires the orchestration of the team,” Silevitch said. “In order to do that, people need to know that you don’t just become a leader by waving your hand. You need to understand that you need to be a follower before you can be a leader. Many engineers are trained in a single discipline.[The point] of an engineering leader is that they need to be comfortable understanding multidisciplinary elements of each project.”

Tim Parker, who graduated from Northeastern in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and will be graduating this spring with a Masters of Science in engineering management, was one student to pass through the leadership program.

Parker said that the program exposes each member to the personal and professional qualities and skills required to lead high-powered and effective engineering teams. He also notes that such material is not commonly taught early in an engineering career, but something that is generally slowly learned over the course of an engineer’s experience.

“I honestly didn’t entirely know what I was getting myself into when I entered the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program,” Parker said. “I knew I wanted to stay in engineering, I wanted to accelerate my career and I wanted to push myself, but I had no idea what this experience was going to be like.”

Parker notes that aside from leadership curriculum, there is a strong focus on product development. He and other students also spend two and a half hours of class time, and many hours outside of the classroom, studying every discipline of engineering from mechanical engineering to quantum mechanics.

One of the key components of the curriculum is the challenge program, which is defined by a sponsoring organization of the GEL. The sponsor defines a challenge that they themselves are not confident students will accomplish. Students then have a year to work through the elements of the project.

“It is hard to explain the comradery I experienced with my classmates,” Parker said. “Not only did we work hard, but we all worked hard together. I think that is one reason candidates are able to get through such an intense program. And it builds upon the importance of strong teamwork.  None of us are going to succeed in our careers working in a vacuum.”

Parker’s challenge program involved increasing the throughput of a speaker component manufacturing process meant to support an automotive speaker system business. The project involved alignment with customers in manufacturing and business units, development of market value analysis, concept generation and thermal process modeling.

Parker states that Silevitch and Pitts’ contributions to the development of engineering leadership is monumentally important, citing that the more young engineers who can speak the language and exercise the leadership capabilities, the more exciting the future of engineering will be.

“The program transformed my professional perspective,” Parker said. “I realized the magnitude of the effect that teams that I worked with could have on my organization. I thought that I had that perspective before entering the program, but the Gordon staff really pushed me to think bigger and be aware of the impact that my teams and I could have.”

With a $500,000 gift included in NAE recognition, half the award will go directly to the program and the development of case studies. Pitts and Silevitch will each receive a quarter of the award.

“I feel it is a tribute to the many great people we have [involved in] the program,” Pitts said. “It is a recognition of the quality and impact of the work that the team delivers.”

Photo by Scotty Schenck