Higher Learning: Practitioners Teach Real-World Skills

Raymond J. Krizek, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.M.ASCE, the Stanley F. Pepper Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, runs the program that confers a master of science (M.S.) in executive management for design and construction (EMDC). This innovative program for professionals in engineering and architecture is taught solely by experts.

Round up

The EMDC program’s development was organic in that it grew out of Northwestern’s master of project management (MPM) program, which Krizek started 25 years ago. The MPM program is designed for young engineering and architecture professionals with one or two years of experience who know the fundamentals of their fields but are looking to acquire business and management skills.

Six years ago Krizek sat down with a committee of practitioners, not academics, from a handful of consulting and contracting firms in the Chicago area and asked them how he could improve the MPM. Their advice was to start an executive management program that would go beyond the tactical approach required of project managers and emphasize the skills and insights needed by aspiring executives with at least eight years experience with increasing levels of responsibility.

In The Beginning

In its early stage the program required six core courses given on Friday and Saturday every other week over three 10-week periods. They were Finance and Accounting for Executives and Leadership and Organization (fall quarter); Construction Law and Risk Management and Negotiation and Human Resource Management (spring quarter). In the first year the university offered the program in a traditional classroom setting, and participants earned a certificate, not a degree, after completing the six courses.

In the second year, however, the program’s scope expanded. Participants were offered the opportunity to earn an M.S. by completing six additional elective courses, and these too were taught by professionals in a traditional classroom setting. According to Krizek, the program was well received by both students and faculty members.

The Move to Online

Although feedback on the degree was positive, students found it inconvenient to miss one Friday of work every other week. This, together with the goal of reaching a broader student market, led to the decision to offer the program online. The switch gave students the opportunity to pursue the program from the convenience of their laptops.

“The emphasis is less on imparting book knowledge than developing insights and strategies for dealing with particular situations.”

To preserve as much as possible the interaction between students and faculty that is part of and parcel of face-to-face instruction, the model adopted for the online presentation for each class consists of a recorded video 60 to 75 minutes long that presents the substance of the lesson and an associated 90-minute interactive webinar that expands on the video and involves the instructor and the students.

The interactive weekly webinars include discussions of assignments, group projects, guest seminars by industry leaders, and student presentations. By maximizing social media outlets, a second goal is to preserve this link beyond graduation to create a fruitful professional network.

The EMDC Program Today

During the 2016-17 academic year the six courses were delivered solely online, thereby enabling the university to reach more individuals who wished to gain executive management expertise. To complement this core program, 15 to 18 specially designed online electives will be added over the next few years. The first two, namely, Facilities Management and Information Systems in Construction, will be offered this fall.

However, Krizek says that to provide optimal flexibility in formulating programs of study, other university courses may serve as electives. Moreover, subject to approval, up to three courses could be transferred from another university.

The ultimate goal is to customize the EMDC program to the fullest extent possible to match the background and career objectives of each student. Although the EMDC curriculum is currently in “design/build” mode, as Krizek likes to call it, the objective is to meet individually with each student prior to his or her first class, as is done in the MPM program, and obtain an answer to this question: where are you coming from and where do you want to go?

Krizek’s desire is to map out a tentative sequence of courses that each student would follow over the duration of his or her program, not just quarter by quarter. The core courses are fixed, but because there is flexibility in the selection of the electives, students are able to pursue their professional interests and fill in any gaps in their backgrounds.

Promising Results

So far the feedback has been very positive from both instructors and students. Students are impressed by the instructor’s deep knowledge and the relevance of the material that is being taught. The emphasis is less on imparting book knowledge than developing insights and strategies for dealing with particular situations.

“The student characterization of the faculty is that they walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk,” says Krizek. The experience that the instructors bring to the table is indeed valuable. “Without a doubt, the strength of the EMDC program, as well as of the MPM program, is the fact that they are taught by an adjunct faculty of more than 40 veteran practitioners, most of whom have more than 20 years of experience and who have carved out successful careers in the establishment and management of design and construction businesses,” says Krizek.

Instructors are gratified by the personal satisfaction they gain from sharing their experiences about discussing case histories with the next generation of executives and from helping them to become “more well rounded in finance and accounting, teamwork, communication, and overall business and management competencies,” Krizek says.

Krizek too is satisfied. He has an innovative and accessible master’s degree program in place that is taught solely by experts in their fields. His hope is that, once he “sails off into the sunset,” the EMDC program will be around for many years to come, helping engineering professionals become better managers, better executives, and better people.

This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Civil Engineering.

 

 

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