Engineering and Business: Collaboration in Education


Brooks G 3047_head_shotThis post from Earl D. Brooks II, Ph.D., president of Trine University and member of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce board of directors, originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

The rapidly changing economic environment illustrates the importance of universities to provide both engineering and business programs with innovative curriculum. Such programs are essential because these students will be responsible for engineering, technology and business initiatives in the 21st century.

With that in mind, Trine University has created the College of Engineering and Business to focus on fast-changing economic needs while harnessing opportunities that exist and providing broader educational options.

It is imperative universities respond to circumstances within the contemporary climate of education. More high school graduates are entering college with college credits already earned, requiring universities to develop nontraditional options. While this can reduce student debt, we think universities should also strive to offer creative and unique curriculum to provide an even broader education. At Trine, students bringing credits can earn a bachelor degree in just three years, or opt to earn a bachelor degree and a master degree in four years in the 3 + 1 program.

Trine created three-year bachelor programs and went a step further to offer a one-year master’s degree program for both engineering and business students who choose to enter the 3 + 1 program. These students may earn a bachelor degree in any engineering major in three years and earn a Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) in one year. Business concepts are the nucleus of the MSEM curriculum.

In comparison, students may earn a bachelor degree in any business major in three years and a Master of Business Administration in one year. The MBA curriculum includes engineering fundamentals. Both programs promote the cross-education model of preparing business and engineering students to collaborate and understand each other’s responsibilities for the success of the companies they serve.

Employers tell us there is a gap in the educations of engineering and business students entering the workforce. By responding to this concern, universities can better prepare their students for successful careers.

Engineers are excellent at developing devices and creating technology to advance their employers’ products and/or services, but often they are not equally adept at understanding business processes. Changes in the economic environment demand engineers possess business skills too. Engineering professionals of tomorrow must be self-sufficient business units, regardless of their position. The blending of engineering and business studies should foster this vision.

Traditionally, universities teach engineering knowledge and skills around manufacturing, technology support and product design. In Trine’s College of Engineering and Business, we teach these methods with the additional curriculum to build entrepreneurial skills crucial to develop economically relevant opportunities for business and technology. For example, engineering students of all disciplines can minor in business, preparing them for roles in engineering management, cost accounting, resource acquisition and leveraging, and financial risk management.

Similarly, business students must understand how engineering operations work and how successful engineering and technology companies operate. The curriculum for business students is enhanced by engineering-based courses on innovation, technology planning, development processes and patents. They must also understand the engineers’ perspective along with their problem-solving process and technical limitations they encounter. Businesses cannot sell goods engineers cannot produce and engineers should not produce goods businesses cannot sell.

Universities with a business school model that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit can promote initiatives and experiences to benefit business and engineering students. In Trine’s case, the Rhoads Center for Entrepreneurship along with Innovation One, an innovative service delivery framework within Trine, give business and engineering students the ability to work and learn together. Students team in a collaborative, hands-on environment to develop ideas and concepts along with business plans and more through private-sector projects secured by Innovation One.

Forging relationships between higher education and business and industry benefits students and employers. Such partnerships pave the way for internships, cooperative education and full-time employment. These opportunities enhance experiential learning, raise awareness of employers’ needs and expectations, and expand employment options for graduates.

Keeping pace with today’s fast-moving technologies and economy is the primary motivator in combining engineering and business studies. It is the educator’s responsibility to use a holistic approach to prepare students to be career-ready so they can make an immediate impact.

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