Drexel University Opens New Engineering Management Department and Systems Engineering Program
Shawn Wasserman posted on May 30, 2014 |

At the start of this year, Drexel unveiled the new Engineering Management Department in the College of Engineering. This shift consolidated four existing programs into a new department: Construction, Engineering, Project, and Property Management. This also saw the creation of the new Systems Engineering program set to start this fall. These developments have led to greater synergy between the programs and improved the educational experience for students. The new department is the 4th largest in the School of Engineering with over 600 students, of which over 500 are grad students. Department head and Associate Dean of Online Engineering Programs, John Via gives his perspective on the change.


Department head and Associate Dean of Online Engineering Programs, Dr. John Via.

Why did the merger take place? How does it benefit students?

“The merger took place as a result of Drexel’s PAR (Program Alignment and Review) process. The Construction, Project, and Property Management programs were originally developed in the Goodwin College of Professional Studies.  Goodwin was an effective incubator for developing and launching new programs, but this resulted in a collection of unaffiliated programs,” explains Via. “There were a lot of innovative and creative programs produced in Goodwin (such as cybersecurity, culinary arts, engineering technology, and construction management), but there was limited strategic alignment with the rest of the university. Thus these programs were transferred to be better aligned with sister programs and improve synergy.”

In other words, all students will benefit from the merger of these programs. Under the old set up, there were often duplicated courses between these similar programs. For instance, courses on project management were taught within the engineering management and project management programs. But now, Via says the university is “taking the strongest aspects from each of the programs to give students the best courses and instructors and improve all of the programs. Stated simply, we are stronger and more efficient together. ”

This will also increase the ease with which students can customize their degrees, since they have the ability to choose from a larger pool of elective courses based on their interests and professional needs. “It almost doesn’t matter which of the five programs you pick. Students can combine almost any degree with a second area of interest for their elective concentration. For example, you can get a master’s degree in engineering management and take all your electives in systems engineering, project management, or construction management. ” explains Via.

This is also good news for students interested in a second master’s, as the process is now streamlined.  Ordinarily, a master’s degree requires a minimum of 30 core credits and 15 elective credits.  But now, to earn a second master’s degree, the elective requirement is waived.  Via explains “So if you’ve got a master’s in Engineering Management, you would only need to take the core 33 credits to earn your master’s in Systems Engineering.”

How does Property Management fit into Engineering?

Perhaps the odd ball program in this new department is the property management program. You don’t have to have an engineering background for acceptance. However, you will focus on some technical issues like multi-family buildings, planning, operations, environmental effects, sustainability, and post construction life cycle of the property.

The curriculum leads to career opportunities in acquisitions, land development, operations, facilities management, asset management, marketing, advertising, and commercial lending.  “Property Management could have transferred into either the Engineering Management department or into the College of Business. But keeping Property Management closely affiliated with the Construction Management Program maintains existing synergies and creates new opportunities in the area of facilities management” says Via.

What is the difference between Project and Engineering Management?

“Engineering Management is a much broader than project management and focuses on the leadership, business and technical challenges facing organizations, from first level supervision to the executive suite,” says Via.  “Students learn how to manage technical resources and solve operations problems that require close cooperation between technical and non-technical staff. This could include managing day-to-day operations, managing new product launches, or designing and building a new manufacturing plant. “

He adds, “Project Management, on the other hand, focuses on the management of teams of people and other resources in the planning, design, execution, and implementation of various aspects of projects.  The field is noted for its applicability across disciplines, and employment opportunities include: engineering, construction, systems development, performing arts, defense, health care nursing, marketing, public relations, and business services.”

Via explains that Drexel is currently working towards accreditation with the Project Management Institute. Of the different surveys that rate project management degrees he notes that Drexel’s Project Management Program is consistently ranked in the top ten.

What program should students choose?

“Ultimately this choice depends on career aspirations, but you also need to consider student interest and company tuition reimbursement programs,” explains Via.  “Many companies require that you have a formal development plan approved by management in order to get tuition reimbursement. Thus students need to consider both their personal interests and the skill needs identified by their employers.”

As an example, if an engineer wants to manage projects and needs project management professional certification, then they should pursue the M.S. Project Management.  However, if they are a supervisor or entry-level manager that wants to move up the ladder, then the M.S. Engineering Management is the way to go.

As another example, deciding between Construction Management and Property Management might depend on your daily workload. If you spend most of your time on construction sites, then Construction Management makes the most sense. If you are looking on the plans side, then perhaps Property Management will work best for you.

Finally, Via suggests that professionals looking at various disciplines and the overall system should consider a M.S. System Engineering.  “Systems engineering is a comprehensive process to guide the engineering and development of complex systems,” explains Via.  “It’s focused on the system as a whole, which includes interactions with other systems and the environment in which the system operates.  The demand for systems engineers is continuing to grow in a diverse set of industries.”

With rolling admissions, students can start during any term that best suits their needs. Additionally, all the graduate programs are available 100% online for the working professional.

The new Systems Engineering Degree

Over the years, Drexel University noticed a number of trends shaping the engineering industry.  “Many of our M.S. Engineering Management students were moving towards systems engineering in their careers and asking about degree options,” says Via. “We already offered a number of systems engineering electives, but we wanted to meet our students’ needs and provide a full master’s curriculum.

Apparently, students were not the only ones pushing for the degree. Via explains, “Employers have told us that some systems engineering programs are not technically rigorous enough, so we wanted to develop a more in-depth program than our competitors.  As such, a significant portion of our degree focuses on the nuts and bolts of system engineering, including analysis, process, logistics, sustainment, and integration.”

When analyzing systems engineering programs at other universities, many seemed to focus on government and military performance; however, Via didn’t want Drexel’s M.S. Systems Engineering degree to be limited.  The applications for systems engineering continue to expand (e.g. healthcare, defense, communications, aerospace, government, transportation, financial sectors, energy, pharmaceuticals, etc), so there is really no reason to limit the curriculum.

“The military uses a lot of system engineering standards, but you have to look at other examples of big systems rollouts that have been a failure, from Denver airport’s luggage system to the recent rollout of the Affordable Care Act. We want to get people to solve large scale problems regardless of which domain they are in,” Via explains.

What is the future of the Engineering Management Department?

Dr. Via views innovation and entrepreneurship as a current unmet demand for the Engineering Management Department. “We’re working closely with Drexel’s Close School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” says Via “and we plan to jointly develop a concentration or second masters option in entrepreneurship.  We are interdisciplinary by design, and we highly value collaboration with other colleges and programs.  Our goal is to develop unique and responsive degree opportunities which benefit our students and their varied career paths.”

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