Students and Alumni Share Personal Insights on the Engineering Management Experience
At a recent Career Advancement Panel hosted virtually by Tufts Gordon Institute, a group of alumni and current students from the On-Campus and Online MS in Engineering Management programs came together to share why they chose the MSEM and how it has made an impact in their careers.
The panel of alumni and current students included:
- Nisarg Desai, MSEM ’15, Senior Product Manager at Sophos
- Gabriela Meza, MSEM ’22, Supplier Quality Engineer at ZOLL Medical Corporation
- Xing Panyanouvong, MSEM ’22, Manufacturing Engineer 3 at Hologic
- Nikki Slaughter, MSEM ’17, Validation Team Manager at Vecna Robotics
The MSEM program is a part-time program designed for working professionals that can be completed in as little as 2 years. Students and graduates of the program gain a variety of business, leadership and technical skills that play a critical role in advancing their careers and improving day-to-day job performance. Here’s what the panelists had to say:
Tell us about yourself and what drew you to the MS in Engineering Management program.
Nisarg: My background has been in cybersecurity. I’ve been in the cyber sector for about 10 to 12 years. I began my career in engineering; I wanted to shift my career from a very technical-focused career to a more technical-plus-business, or technical-plus-managerial, track. I found it hard to do that just by myself after five years in a job. I was looking around and personally, I chose the MSEM program for a specific purpose, which was to be able to choose and change my career function and make a move from engineering to product management. That was the goal I had in mind for myself and what I wanted to do for the next several years.
Gabriela: As soon as I graduated [from undergrad], I knew I wanted to pursue my master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue it in. While in the workforce, I got a lot of opportunities to mentor individuals and lead programs. I found a true passion for that. That led me to want to pursue my MS in Engineering Management. What drew me really close to Tufts was that a lot of my colleagues at ZOLL have pursued that degree and I’ve seen the growth in them.
Xing: I’ve been out of school for some time and grad school had not been on my mind. My previous manager at Hologic, who’s also a 2016 graduate of the Tufts MSEM program, shared information with me about the program and I decided to look at it again. This time around, I found out there was an online program; it changed my perspective on the MSEM. I really liked the fact that this program is quite flexible and that it’s online. I am also in a role where I have to learn the hard, technical skills and I also have to learn the soft skills like influencing without authority.
Nikki: I’m a Double Jumbo, so I went to Tufts for undergrad as well in mechanical engineering. I knew from Tufts that the Gordon Institute makes professionals who are very well rounded and who are able to work with many different types of people. I was really attracted to the program because I knew that it was going to give me not just the engineering skills, but the soft skills that I would need to lead a diverse team.
What are some things that you’ve learned in the MSEM program and how has that knowledge helped you to advance your career and make an impact with your organization?
Nisarg: The biggest thing that I’ve learned is the ability to make an impact. In our jobs and careers, we have a finite amount of time and resources with all the other things going on. In my job, when there’s a new problem that’s been put in front of me, very quickly, I’m able to analyze the problem objectively, try to understand what the issue is, and then begin to see how it plays into the bigger picture of my group, my team, my manager, my company, etc.
Gabriela: From one of the core classes so far, I was able to receive one-on-one coaching and review where I am at in my current leadership skills and what I need to grow into. I was able to push back on mental models I had of myself which helped me gain more self-confidence. With Dr. Jerry Brightman, I was able to develop an individualized plan. That was very encouraging. He was helping me push past things that I was struggling with by giving me recommendations. Just through that seven-week class, I felt like I grew so much.
At work, people were noticing my leadership skills. I gained a direct report and more responsibility with mentoring and leading new hires as well as more responsibility leading more of the global projects across different ZOLL locations. It has definitely been rewarding.
Xing: Professor Sam Liggero’s class on technology strategy really allowed me to understand the concepts that I was practicing in my everyday job like the new development process, the product technology roadmap, etc. It’s been really exciting to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom back into the work environment.
Nikki: As an example, you take a finance class where you look at finances on a business level, like: How successful is your company? Do they have the appropriate budget? Are they making profit? Then, all of your classes tie together to give you a big picture of how your business is doing, how you should be planning for the future and unexpected events. I really loved the business strategy classes because it makes you think outside of just your immediate workgroup.
The MSEM program is designed with the schedules of working professionals in mind. How has the MSEM’s flexibility – whether you’re enrolled in the online program or graduated from the on-campus program – fit in with your careers? And, what’s the immersive cohort experience like?
Nisarg: I really loved the on-campus program. It was quite a nice, friendly atmosphere. You learned a lot from talking, networking and meeting your cohort and fellow students. Many of them have become friends. We still meet for lunch and we still keep in touch even after all this time, so, I love that aspect of it.
Gabriela: I needed to be part of an online program where, no matter where I move, I can access it and still be part of the community. It has been great so far. Even though we don’t see each other face-to-face in the traditional sense, I still feel like we’re able to have good networking and community through synchronous updates that are weekly or the office hours that the professors provide for us.
Xing: It’s really nice to work at your own pace in the Online MSEM program. I’m definitely glued to my job and I think that’s partly the reason why I couldn’t commit to an on-campus program. With the tools that we have right now, just with modern technology and what Tufts offers, I’ve been able to stay connected with all of my classmates.
Nikki: I was part of the on-campus weekend cohort which met every other Friday and Saturday. The job that I had then required me to travel a bit for work; the schedule still allowed me to travel during the week.
One thing that I really loved about the experience was the cohort. You’re really able to connect with your colleagues, your co-workers and your classmates. People are in this program because they truly want to do better at what they’re trying to achieve. I love the family feel of it. You get to know each other very well.
Thinking back to when you were considering graduate school, what words of advice do you have for prospective applicants?
Nisarg: After finishing the MSEM, all of the classes that I discounted at first glance really ended up standing out to me because they had an ability to introduce fundamental changes to my thinking and gave me a new perspective to the way I approach people and life in general. It helped me understand that other people can have wildly different perspectives on things that I thought were black and white.
Gabriela: If you’re considering graduate school and you’re not certain where you want to go, take some time. You have time to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree and you always have flexibility to make it work. Be sure that what you pursue will help you in your career growth because that’s important. Think about it like: Is this something I am passionate about? Is this something that will benefit me or benefit the organization I currently work for? Be patient and seek your passions.
Xing: The MSEM is going to have a definite career impact. Countless people who have been through this program have been promoted. I think using all of your resources and really putting in the commitment will get you to your end goal.
Nikki: Utilize the resources and tools early and often. When I’m talking about resources, it’s not just the coursework that you’re doing; it’s also the people who are in the classroom with you. It’s your classmates and your teachers. They’re available to answer your questions if you have them. Know that you’re not alone. There are other people in this program going through the same thing. There’s a lot of people who are there to give you advice and provide mentoring. I would say don’t be shy and ask questions.
Tufts Gordon Institute continues to welcome applications for the Fall 2021 cohorts in both the Online and On-Campus MS in Engineering Management programs. Learn more about the MSEM programs and view upcoming deadlines.