University of Colorado Boulder Interview: Engineering Management Master’s Degree
Shawn Wasserman posted on February 10, 2014 |
Interview with Barbara Lawton on UC-Boulder’s MEM degree, which blends online and in-person le...

School: University of Colorado Boulder


Receive a graduate engineering degree from a highly-respected, Tier 1 research university. The faculty has more than academic credentials; they bring C-level experience starting and running successful businesses—from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. Program content is applicable immediately, enabling you to put new knowledge and skills into practice as you learn them. Flexibility is a cornerstone of the program, including the ability to take up to three courses prior to formal admission. In addition to outstanding faculty and content, you interact and learn with CU-Boulder peers in leading-edge, global, high-tech industries,” Barbara Lawton, Interim Faculty Director.

Where is it: Boulder, Colorado

Format: Online & On-campus. Synchronous or asynchronous.

Degree you get: M.E. in Engineering Management

Size of the Program: ~250 current students

Number of credit hours: 30 credits

And that will take how long? 3 years

When does it run:  Fall and Spring

Fees: $20,000 - $25,000

Minimum Admission Requirements:

  • Transcripts (GPA +3.0, or GRE)
  • TOEFL, 102+
  • Essay
  • Résumé (2 years of experience)
  • Letters of Reference

Not Required

  • GRE (if GPA > 3.0)

Who should take it?

  • Junior to mid-level working engineers and technical professionals
  • Typically 30-35 years old
  • 5 years of experience (2 years minimum)

Claim to fame:

  • Synchronous/asynchronous flexibility
  • Policy has curbed cheating to near zero
  • W. Edwards Deming philosophy


Perhaps the most flexible MEM master’s program has encountered is offered by the University of Colorado Boulder
(UC-Boulder). What makes this program so unique is that they blur the lines between online and on-campus learning wherever possible.

Distance students have the option to participate in lectures synchronously from home via webcam hookup. This allows students to ask questions and participate in class discussion in real time from the comfort of their own home.

“Classes tend to be scheduled after 5pm so that distance students have the option of participating synchronously or even coming physically to the lecture on campus. If this isn’t possible, they can participate asynchronously at any time that works for them. Students with heavy travel schedules have told us that they love the option of downloading the lecture and watching it offline on an airplane,” said Barbara Lawton, Interim Faculty Director.

Barbara Lawton, Interim Faculty Director at the University of Colorado Boulder

“The flexibility of working asynchronously is a key convenience, and is a reason many students transfer into our program after starting one at another institution. Approximately 95% of our students work full time, most are married, and many have children.  It’s challenging for them to fit graduate education into their life and so they need the flexibility our program provides,” noted Lawton. 

She adds that “during the course of their degree program, a significant number get promotions that sometimes require them to relocate.  The option to participate totally asynchronously allows them to complete their degree no matter where they are. ”

“On-campus learning has its own advantages. We are mammals, social beings, and there is a ‘limbic resonance’ that happens when humans are in a room together that can significantly enhance the learning experience.  Our goal is to make the online program as equivalent as possible. You get the highest level of experience we can create using technology while maintaining flexibility. We don’t even call it online education, we still call it distance education to stress the equivalency.”

On-campus and synchronous online students laughing during lecture

With such a setup, online and on-campus content is obviously the same. “This is a graduate degree, we are not watering down the work just because this is not a traditional, on-campus program,” said Lawton. “Therefore, if you are just starting the program you should start with one course. Find the rhythm for integrating your education into your professional and personal life.  Then you can decide whether two classes in a semester will allow you to maintain a satisfactory and sustainable work-life balance.”

Even more flexible, students can take up to 3 MEM courses before they need to apply to the program officially. This will allow students to get their feet wet and adjust to the working student lifestyle before they make a big commitment.

To ensure content quality, UC-Boulder employs professors and instructors that have been around the engineering management block. “The faculty, while having full academic credentials, has been there and done it.  Of course we use textbooks and vetted curriculum, but our teaching is grounded in firsthand knowledge,” said Lawton.

Of note is the program’s commitment to W. Edwards Deming. Deming is famous for his Business performance and management process method “Plan-Do-Check-Act.” It was Deming who took this process management philosophy to Japan in the 1950s where it took off.

 “Students frequently remark on the integrated nature of the course content and the consistency in the approach to management from one faculty member to another.  The common root is Deming’s management and leadership philosophy. Several of our key faculty studied with Deming himself and several others were trained in his methods. This manifests in a program focus on ‘customer, process, and people’ and data-based decision making. We also offer an emphasis area of study in Six Sigma which, to my knowledge, is unparalleled in higher education,” boasted Lawton.

“We want to enhance the value our students bring to the workplace now. It isn’t about stuffing their heads with information which they may or may not get to use at some future time in their career. It’s about applying the knowledge in real-time, as they’re learning it, in their current place of employment. Because of this, it’s a rather regular occurrence to get an email from a student thanking us as they get a promotion or new position while they’re in the program,” she adds.

“However, if you are looking to move into executive management or ‘C’-level position within the next few years, then an MBA might serve you better,” advises Lawton. “The MBA is significantly longer than the master of engineering program (typically 54 vs. 30 credits) and will focus much more heavily on finance and accounting.  MBAs typically cover different commercial sectors as well, such as banking, retail and real estate. We help technical professionals who are interested in remaining technical advance their career by moving into the management ranks.”

The program has also achieved great success curbing cheating amongst the student body. They have implemented an honor code above and beyond that of the school, and implemented an ethics quiz, designed to educate students on proper methods for citation, etc.  Students can take the quiz (which has randomly selected questions) as many times as they need to, but they must achieve 100% on it before progressing in the course. The program works on a two-strikes-and-you’re-out basis.  This, plus each faculty members’ support in their classroom, have reduced cheating to near zero.

“The faculty are from the business world. We know the serious deleterious effects unethical behavior can have not just on one’s career, but on the company and even the economy as a whole. The recent mortgage crises arising from unethical behavior brought the United States to the brink of a financial depression!” Warns Lawton.

“A key goal for us is cultivating ethical leadership in our student body. The whole faculty is passionate about this issue. Each and every faculty members shares their personal experiences with respect to unethical behavior in business at the start of each semester. We routinely check student papers for plagiarism. Sometimes plagiarism is an accident, sometimes on purpose, sometimes the student doesn’t know it’s wrong because it is an accepted practice in their home culture.  The process we use of education (via the honor code quiz and individual faculty support), checking student work, and implementing our policy, has nearly eliminated cheating in our program.  Other departments in the college have taken note of our success and have begun implementing our process,” explained Lawton.

It seems that UC-Boulder are well rounded. They promote a culture of best practices and continuous improvements within their own program. They also have experience ensuring students with disabilities are able to succeed within the course.

Why wouldn’t you get an MEM from UC-Boulder:

  • If you want to specialize in areas not offered at UC-Boulder MEM

  • You wish to move into executive management or a C-level position in the near future

Students must take 10 courses (30 Credit-hours):

  • 6 core courses
  • 4 electives courses

Required Courses (6 courses):

  • EMEN 5010: Introduction to Engineering Management
  • EMEN 5020: Finance and Accounting for Engineering Managers
  • EMEN 5030: Project Management OR EMEN 5031: Software Project Management

  • EMEN 5040: Quality, Strategy, and Value Creation
  • EMEN 5050: Authentic Leadership
  • EMEN 5090: Marketing and Technology OR EMEN 5900: Research Methods

    Elective Courses (4 courses):

    • EMEN 5030: Project Management
    • EMEN 5031: Software Project Management
    • EMEN 5032: Advanced Topics in Project Management
    • EMEN 5041: Advanced Topics in Value Creation
    • EMEN 5042: Methods for Quality Improvement
    • EMEN 5043: Advanced Topics in Quality Systems / Engineering
    • EMEN 5080: Ethical Decision-Making
    • EMEN 5090: Marketing and Technology Ventures

  • EMEN 5200: Principles of Management Consulting
  • EMEN 5400: Product Development
  • EMEN 5500: Lean and Agile Management
  • EMEN 5610: Advanced Statistical Methods for Engineering Research
  • EMEN 5620: Data Mining & Screening Experiments for Engineering Research
  • EMEN 5710: Applied Business Decisions
  • EMEN 5825: The New Venture Experience
  • EMEN 5900: Research Methods

    Images courtesy of  University of Colorado Boulder.

    Recommended For You