Interdisciplinary Education in Engineering

The following blog post was contributed by the University of Windsor to highlight their Master’s of Engineering Management program. Click here to get more info and to register for a live info session about the program. 

It is no coincidence that today’s employers are increasingly searching for candidates with expertise in more than one discipline. Staying competitive in a globalized and dynamic marketplace necessitates the need for continuous innovation and the investigation of problems from different perspectives. For instance, leading automotive and manufacturing firms are focusing their attention on integrating technology into their core operations to grow market share.

Autonomous vehicle operation, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, augmented reality and vehicle cybersecurity are some of the top trends in the auto industry. To succeed, car manufactures employ teams with interdisciplinary backgrounds to manage such projects. For instance, implementing Augmented Reality (AR) and Head-Up Display (HUD) in vehicles must consider human factors that may impact driver safety in the design process. Engineers implementing such technology need to stake into account driver age, eyes-on-the-road time, field-of-view limitations, cognitive capture and visual clutter intolerance; that is in addition to their expertise in technology and interface design. Furthermore, a typical ergonomics specialist will ideally possess diverse background in human kinetics, kinesiology, human engineering and industrial design.

Equally important, sales, marketing and team leadership skills are highly desirable when recruiting project, product and operation managers. Engineers filling these positions are expected to understand and make decisions about resource allocation, supply chain, procurement, project feasibility and quality assurance.

To meet the labor market’s need for engineers with diverse backgrounds, universities historically responded by offering multidisciplinary graduate programs and minors that allow engineers to take additional courses in disciplines other than engineering, particularly management, business and law. However, students graduating from such programs quickly realize the need for more interdisciplinary approach where theories from different disciplines are taught at once and in an integrated manner, rather than taking courses in separately disciplines sequentially. Hence, instead of teaching general business and administration courses separately, specific strategy, management, accounting and finance topics related to engineering projects are customized to engineering needs and taught alongside engineering courses.

In an interdisciplinary degree program, such as the University of Windsor’s weekend Master’s of Engineering Management program, engineers learn theories that directly apply to their job needs such as job costing, project budgeting, risk analysis and resource allocation. With such knowledge, engineers are more equipped to become more effective project managers, product managers, supply chain managers and other leadership capacities. Graduates with interdisciplinary background are also in a better position to appreciate the ethical dimension to issues of concern and comprehend matters of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), the number of interdisciplinary degrees awarded annually in the United States climbed from 7,000 in 1973 to 30,000 in 2005. Several universities started offering interdisciplinary programs in management of technology, business analytics, health technology and informatics and cybernetics.

Recently, the University of Windsor launched the long-awaited weekend Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. This interdisciplinary program delivers integrated curriculum that directly meet the needs of tomorrow’s managers and leaders. Many companies, especially in the manufacturing and automotive industries, welcomed this approach and offered their employees financial incentives to enroll. Windsor’s MEM program, for instance, being favorably priced for engineers earning in US dollar, found a copious of support from key industry players such as FCA, Centerline and Valiant Machine & Tools.

UWindsor’s program is also delivered in an online format and hence, offering busy full-time engineering the luxury to complete a Master’s degree, while travelling or working in remote areas. To learn more about this unique program, visit: www.uwindsor.ca/mem

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