A Masters in Project Management Keeps the Promotions Coming
Shawn Wasserman posted on May 28, 2014 |
University of Maryland Director John Cable discusses the advantages of a degree in project managemen...

School: University of Maryland


“The Project management degree has a broad based focus on project execution. We have a few courses that go beyond the individual project, to the program and to the portfolio. But our focus is on if you have a project, how do you define it, how do you execute it, and how do you get it down on time, in budget and with a happy customer? … This is really for people with a technical background and are working in a business, research or not, and they need to be able to execute their responsibilities in a professional manner.” John H. Cable, Director of Project Management Center for Excellence at University of Maryland

Where is it: College Park, MD

Format: Online & On-campus. Student population split 50/50.

Degree you get: Master of Engineering in Project Management

Size of the Program: ~300 Students

Number of credit hours: 30 credit hours

And that will take how long? ~2.5 years

When does it run:  Year round

Fees: $25,000 - $30,000

Minimum Admission Requirements:

  • GRE (156 Quantitative, 150 verbal, < 5 years old)
  • TOEFL 100+
  • Transcripts (GPA >3.0)
  • Essay (Statement of Purpose)
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • Resume (5 years of experience)

Not Required

  • N/A

Who should take it?

  • Experienced Engineers
  • 5 years of experience
  • Managers
  • Usually 27-35 years of age

Claim to fame:

  • First US Accredited Project Management Program in an Engineering School
  • Weekly conference calls between online students and instructors
  • Listen to students about continuous improvement of program and course selections


When John Cable was finishing his PhD while working in industry he never thought of becoming the head of an academic program. However, after teaching just one class, resounding praise from students in 1999 led the department chair to offer him that job. Cable went on to create and manage the University of Maryland’s graduate program on project management and he has never looked back. “The paycheck,” he says, “is the students learning, growing, and having success.”

John H. Cable, Director of Project Management Center for Excellence at University of Maryland.

What is the program and who teaches it?

“The Project management degree has a broad based focus on project execution,” said Cable. “We have a few courses that go beyond the individual project, to the program and to the portfolio. But our focus is on: if you have a project, how do you define it, how do you execute it, and how do you get it done on time, in budget and with a happy customer?”

He adds, “Studying Project management in an academic environment gives you a distinct competitive advantage. One of the instructors often says ‘your job as a project manager is to create an environment within which good people can flourish’ that is something students remember and often say in their papers.”

As there is a focus on individual projects, it seems the program is aimed at getting engineers into team leadership roles. However, if students are looking to move higher up the corporate ladder then perhaps a Masters of Engineering Management (MEM) or an MBA would be more appropriate. These programs offer more of the big picture knowledge needed for middle and upper management.

Just as this is a labour of love for Director Cable, his teaching staff is passionate about their work with students. “Most are adjunct professors. They don’t get enough money for it to really make a difference. They do it because they want to give back to the community, they like to teach and are very dedicated. They are the heartbeat of the program. It’s all about helping younger people not make the same mistakes you made,” expressed Cable.

Who should take the Project Management Program?

Students from all engineering disciplines have taken Cable’s programs. However, he explains that the majority of his students come from construction, system engineering and the IT community. There is even some popularity among the pharmaceutical sector. “This is really for people with a technical background and are working in a business, research or not, and they need to be able to execute their responsibilities in a professional manner,” said Cable.

“We do get a number of people that are in very responsible management positions. Managing the local office of some firm. They tend to be a little outside our age range. But the median is 27-35 years old.”

When recommending his program, Cable wants to see students with some engineering mileage. These years of experience will help the students appreciate and further benefit from the program. “Though some international students come in straight from undergrad, they often need to be paired with an experienced student to get them up to speed. A student with work experience gets so much more out of it because they can relate to what the teachers are talking about,” he explains.

Online or On-campus?

“Online programs are definitely better for graduate students,” mentions Cable. “If a person is working and making the decision to go back to school, advance their education and career path; they’ve made a commitment. They are putting their own money, or their company’s money, into it then they are making a commitment to be there and do the work. We do not see students that have a motivational problem.”

This commitment can explain why Cable says there is a high completion rate for the program. It is rare for someone to stop part way though. Perhaps the flexibility of working online can also account for this high graduation rate?

Cable replies, “Flexibility is important as young people in that age range are highly mobile. They might walk into the office Monday morning and are told they are assigned to the new job in Kansas for the next 6 months, pack your bags, bye! In fact, it’s not uncommon for an on campus student to switch to online because this has happened to them.”

However, there is something to be said to learning on campus. As Cable notes there are different types of learners out there. Some prefer being in the classroom with the teacher, others don’t think it’s that important.

Despite the different learning styles, the programs are comparable. “We design the online program to equal or exceed the campus program,” assures Cable. “Everything about the online coursework is the same as the campus work, same syllabus, teacher, and live classes are recorded. The only difference between on-campus and online is the online student has more flexibility.”

This is because online students have a whole week to complete their weekly assignments, readings, and videos. There is no set time during the week to do these tasks.

However, there may be another hidden benefit for online students. Once a week they gather with 12-15 fellow students for a video conference call with their professors. This allows students to get to know their fellow classmates and their faculty.

“One of my students remarked that ‘I’ve spent more hours this semester talking to you than I would if I were in the front row of your lecture.’ All the other students on the conference call agreed. I didn’t think about it until then but I realized that he was completely right. In fact we see that even students that are ‘in theory’ on campus still take online classes,” reminisced Cable.

Additionally, taking project management online makes sense as it allows students to better practice what they are learning in class and will use in the real world. “On-campus you can shoot the breeze during meetings and fumble around. For online student there is a conference call at 10pm and bam! They have an hour, they run it with an agenda. Students say this forces them to really learn to implement what is taught about managing projects. I never had a campus student say that,” Cable admits.

What advice do you have for future students?

“Really do your homework in selecting which program you enroll in,” advises Cable. “Look at everything you can get. Talk to the faculty, talk to the students that have taken it. Just be sure you know what the program represents. Don’t just look at marketing literature. Make sure it meets your needs and is accredited with the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs.”

As far as accreditations go, Cable’s program was the first to be accredited as a project management graduate degree within an engineering school. Most, he admits, are located within business schools.

Additionally, Cable advised that part time students start slow with only one course in their first semester. As they get accustomed to student life, taking two courses becomes more feasible.

How do online students access content?

“We used to use BlackBoard and migrated to Canvas. It is a much better experience for both online students, on-campus students, instructors, and administration. The people that made Canvas were at a school that used BlackBoard. These computer science students said ‘we can do better.’ They spent months interviewing everyone that would use it, students, faculty, and administrators. This defined the user requirements before they even started coding. Then as they programed everything was beta tested at a local university. The system is therefore designed for the user and it is very user friendly for all levels of users,” exclaimed Cable.

The simplified interface allows instructors to access a paper in a single click. Using a tool named speed grader they can comment, mark-up, edit, and send comments to students instantly. Once a mark is assigned it is automatically sent to the gradebook. “The people at Canvas are also very responsive,” adds Cable. “If you ask them to expand a capability chances are it will happen really quickly.”

What sets your program apart from others?

“We are constantly evaluating what we are doing with a continuous improvement philosophy. At launch we had 10 three credit hour graduate courses, today we have about 23. Those additional courses evolved with the needs of the students from various sectors that wanted specialized courses. So we responded to the community and provided those courses.”

The program even went as far as to make their own student survey instead of the University standard one. The feedback is collected into one document and sent to all instructors so that they can learn from both the success and downfalls of their fellow faculty. Cable says that he receives many visits from instructors the weeks after the results are distributed looking to improve their work or get clarification on what others did successfully.

This feedback has also shaped the program. Most recently, feedback from their military students led to the creation of a course on sustainability.

Additionally, Cable explains that “students that complete our program have the tendency to get promoted pretty regularly … We really try to work on critical thinking skills. The details of how to do something are going to change rapidly. If we teach a methodology two years later the methodology is passé. If you teach a student how to think about the problems and how to solve problems from a critical thinking aspect, then they are equipped to go into the working world. No matter what is presented to them, you’re at a solution! I think that is why these kids tend to be promoted so rapidly.”

Why would you not get a Masters of Project Management from the University of Maryland:

  • You prefer BlackBoard
  • You want to focus more on middle to upper management based programs like with an MEM, or MBA


Core Courses

  • ENCE 661 Project Cost Accounting & Finance
  • ENCE 662 Introduction to Project Management
  • ENCE 664 Legal Aspects of Engineering Design & Construction
  • ENCE 665 Management of Project Teams
  • ENCE 667 Project Performance Measurement
  • ENCE 688Y Research Methodology Seminar



  • ENCE 604 Sustainability Fundamentals for Project Managers
  • ENCE 606 Introduction to Project Scheduling
  • ENCE 600 The Project Management Office: Execution Across Boundries
  • ENCE 601 Program and Portfolio Management
  • ENCE 602 Project Procurement Management
  • ENCE 603 Management Science Applications in Project Management
  • ENCE 605 Evolving as a Project Leader
  • ENCE 607 Real Estate Investment & Planning for the Project Manager
  • ENCE 623 Introduction to Advanced Scheduling
  • ENCE 624 Managing Projects in a Dynamic Environment
  • ENCE 625 Project Administration
  • ENCE 626 Web-based Project Management
  • ENCE 627 Project Risk Management
  • ENCE 663 Management of Design & Construction Organizations
  • ENCE 666 Cost Engineering & Control
  • ENCE 688Z Project Stakeholder & Communications Management
  • ENCE 724 Nonlinear Programming in Project Management
  • ENCE 725 Probabilistic Optimization in Project Management

Images courtesy of  U of  Maryland.

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