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ISU, University of Iowa Departments Team Up for Program

They call it the "best of both worlds."

It's a program designed to give professional engineers a chance to understand the broad aspects of business. It's also a program that combines the engineering heft of Iowa State University's College of Engineering with the University of Iowa's prestigious Henry B. Tippie School of Business. The "executive engineer" MBA program is designed to give professional engineers the training they need to meet the increasing business demands they face.

It's hard to say which makes the program more unique – bridging the gap between engineering and business or the chasm between Iowa State and the University of Iowa. "It's very unique to have what would be considered to be two traditional adversarial universities working together to solve the needs of our customers," said Program Director John Fraser. "It came about because of the needs of Iowa business," said Dan Topf, the program's Ames-based assistant director. "It wasn't something that came around because of a government mandate." Businesses were losing engineers from the field, and wanted to give them the broad-based management skills they needed, Topf said. So business leaders went to their favorite engineering school (Iowa State) and their favorite business school (Iowa) and asked them to come up with a program.

The first class of 31 began in the fall of 2000 and graduated last December. Engineers stayed in the same teams for the entire period, meeting in all-day classes on either Friday or Saturday. "That allowed us to build off the strengths of the other team members," said Karen Willett, a senior electrical engineer at Rockwell Collins. Working together throughout the project, "We really learned what other members' strengths were," Willett said.

Another bonus: since everyone in the course was an engineer, the experience forced them out of their engineering mentality. "If we were in a group with accountants, we probably would've relied on their skills," Willett said. An undergraduate degree in engineering is a prerequisite for the program.

Learning new skills is important for today's engineers. Willett needs to know how to work with customers and in "project engineering" - something that requires understanding of schedules and budgets, not just technical aspects. "It helps you understand when you're in a meeting with the marketing people the other aspects of the business," Willett said. "It helps me understand the language they're using."

Two one-week residencies were also part of the program, as was an international trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Courses are taught at the University of Iowa's Extension Center in Cedar Rapids. The fee for the program is all-inclusive and covers tuition, books, supplies, computer software, parking, group luncheons and room and board during the two on-campus residency weeks - as well as an international trip. Students will need to pay for transportation to class and for airfare to the ten-day international seminar.

Graduates get a degree from both institutions - an engineering degree from Iowa State and a business degree from Iowa. Of course, two degrees creates their own problems. Willett, who lives in Marion, doesn't know whether she supports the Cyclones or the Hawkeyes. "I guess I have to root for both of them," she said. It seems there's a lot of head-to-head competition between the two of them," Willett said. "It's the best of both worlds."

For more information, visit the program's Web site.

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