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Distinguished Student Q+A: Rick Osterberg, MSEM ’17

Students win the Granoff Award

Rick Osterberg, MSEM ’17 was recently given the Outstanding Student Award in Engineering Management at the 19th Annual Graduate Student Awards.

Since January, Rick has been the Chief Information Officer at Olin College of Engineering, and he says the M.S. in Engineering Management program was critical for him to land the position. He studied computer science at Harvard, and has spent most of his career working in the higher education sector.

Tufts Gordon Institute recently spoke to Rick about the program and how its impacted his career.

Why did you choose the Tufts MSEM program?

When I applied to the program, I was working at Tufts University, in the Technology Services group. I had always thought about pursing an MBA. I went to an M.S. in Engineering Management info session, and for the first time, it felt like a program that fit the model and lifestyle that I was looking for, a program that was tailored for a working professional to maintain work-life balance. The fact that all the other details were taken care of, including dinner on class night, was a selling point to me.

Which class was the most rewarding for you?

For me, the class that was most interesting was Frank Apeseche’s managerial accounting class, because it was the most tangibly relevant to my day-to-day life. I’ve been in leadership roles for a decade or so now, and I’ve been managing budgets for years, but I’ve never managed the finance side. I’m a technology guy – but that was the class that gave me a deeper understanding of the financial models of a company in a way that I had not appreciated before.

Is there a particular piece of advice from a faculty member that you’re going to take away from the program?

I’m taking away a lot from the managerial accounting course, because I’m involved with our board of trustees now, and how we manage our long-term financial planning. I use tools and techniques for effective motivation of teams regularly. I’m now in an executive role in my organization, so ethical behavior is front-of-mind for me every single day of the week.

I’ve learned a whole lot from the people who are standing at the front of the room. We have great faculty members. But what I have certainly treasured is my cohort. I’ve learned so much from my classmates. I’m looking forward to using that increased exposure to different sets of experiences and perspectives that I’ve been able to absorb and gain from them, and apply that to my future career.

What does leadership mean to you?

I would say that leadership to me is the act of inspiring people to achieve goals that they may not have yet dreamed, with skills they may not yet realize they have. 

What do you think is the most important technological innovation or invention of the last 100 years? 

I think what so much of it comes down to is the internet. More broadly than that, it’s the connectivity and access to information. Certainly, that’s 1,000 different inventions all rolled into one. For example, Wikipedia is an incredible invention. The broad invention of the internet has led to instant communications, worldwide connectivity, and information and knowledge exchange at an incredible pace.

We have remote medicine – you can wear a Fitbit that automatically uploads something to a web page, or I can remotely diagnose a heart condition in a patient halfway around the world, or I can do remote open heart surgery with a robot. All of that is contingent on the set of inventions that is connectivity, internet, and instant sharing of ideas around the world. That is transformative.

What advice would you give future students in the program?

The best advice I’d give to future or prospective students is: treat it as a marathon, not as a sprint. This program requires organization to make sure that you keep track of your personal life, your professional life, and your school life. Keep those three in the appropriate balance for you, because that balance is different for each person.