Breaking Ceilings with a Six-fold ROI: How the MSEM Elevated My Thinking

Syra Arif, MSEM ’17, had a technical background but she wanted to go beyond and speak the same language as C-suite leaders. The MSEM program was her catalyst in doing so.

Syra Arif, MSEM ’17, currently Manager – Solution Consulting, IT Transformation, Risk & Security at ServiceNow, shared her perspective on how the Tufts Master of Science in Engineering Management program helped support her technical foundation and “break ceilings” to become a leader who can rally confidence and support from C-suite business leaders. For those looking to do the same, Syra has several key pieces of advice.


Looking back on your time in the Tufts MS in Engineering Management program, how would you describe yourself coming into the on-campus program and now around three years out?

Before enrolling in the MSEM program, I was working in a technical role. I just didn’t know how to break out of that and interface with business stakeholders or understand all the moving parts of a company both operationally and organizationally. I didn’t speak the same language as them. 

The MSEM program really helped me elevate my thinking; I really needed a framework of thought that would help me move to the next level and show me where to get resources, what I should be reading and how I should be thinking. 


When you were looking to break out and explore new areas of organizations, why did you choose the MSEM program over, say, an MBA program?

When I was deciding whether I should go down the route of an MSEM or an MBA, I chose the MSEM program for very practical reasons like cost and return on investment. Quantitatively, my return on investment has been like 6x but ROI could look different for everyone – salary, opportunities, and so on.

In the MSEM program, you also get business knowledge that complements your technical knowledge. Having executive presence instills confidence in others that you also understand the language of business just like they do and that you’re not just a technical person. 


In a survey of recent MSEM cohorts, 97 percent say they’ve increased their business and financial knowledge and 96 percent say the program strengthened their leadership preparedness. How have you seen this at play in your career and experience in the program?

While I was in the program, I was sitting in the finance and accounting class, and at the time, we had learned how to read financial statements. I was looking at the financial statements for a company that was still in startup mode and I saw the growth pattern. That’s something I would not have been able to do if I didn’t take that class and have that one-on-one time with the professor learning outside of class – being able to read through the books and work through the coursework. That skill really helped take me to where I am today.

As for the presentation skills and the development we learned in the safe space that is the MSEM program – and it truly was safe – those soft skills really prepare you before you get turned over to the real world where you have to do this in front of C-suite people. 

A lot of the case studies we read on leadership, things like how to influence without authority, have really helped give me a competitive edge. We read about new leaders and managers, what managers did that did not make them successful and how to actually sharpen your soft skills to really influence. Those skills have tremendously helped me. 

Most of us with technical backgrounds think that the more technical we get, the better we might be in the long term which is great if you’re pursuing a technology track but if you really work on those soft skills, that helps you break ceilings.


For many people, committing to a part-time MSEM program may seem daunting while working full time. What advice do you have for others who are considering the program?

At the time I started the program, I felt like the role I was working in may not exist long term. My advice is to consider your options seriously and don’t be intimidated if you’re uncomfortable with this challenge.

When you’re uncomfortable, that’s when you’re growing. I know it’s hard to go through at the time, but really take this as a challenge and know that you’re in a safe and comfortable space if you do choose to pursue the program.