Union teaches engineers to be business savvy

Union Graduate College student Matthew Waddell said he, unlike some engineers, is not content to spe
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Union Graduate College student Matthew Waddell said he, unlike some engineers, is not content to spend his days “working on equations, solving small problems.

“I would prefer to someday be an entrepreneur,” Waddell said. “I’ve got a couple of patent ideas that I’m working on. I want to be ready and have all of the business skills that I’ll need and also have the engineering, technical background.”

Waddell, a Saratoga Springs native who graduated from Union College with a degree in engineering, is one of 20 students enrolled in the new Engineering Management graduate degree program offered at Union Graduate College. He said the graduate program is divided evenly between Master of Business Administration and engineering classes, some of which have elements of business incorporated into them.

“Most of the MBA classes I’ve taken so far pertained to management; I hope to take some involving finance soon,” he said.

Bob Kozik, the dean of Union Graduate College’s school of engineering, said he created the Engineering Management program to help fill a need in Tech Valley for engineers with business training.

“[This program] is kind of like half in the engineering and half in the management area. It’s grown from nothing to about 25 percent of [the graduate students enrolled] in our program,” Kozik said.

Mark Little, the senior vice president and director of Niskayuna-based GE Global Research, said a marriage between engineering and business management will benefit graduates of Union Graduate College.

“Today’s engineers and scientists not only need to be experts in technology, they need to have a solid business management background and an awareness of global policy implications to complement their expertise,” Little said.

Kozik said he’s tried to design courses that fit the Capital Region’s energy-related companies, such as General Electric Co., Lockheed Martin and Plug Power. He said he collaborated with GE Global Research to create a solar energy technology class for the winter semester. The class concluded Wednesday evening.

Todd Toliver, an engineer at GE Global Research and a solar power project leader, taught the course. He said he had many Ph.D-level engineers at GE teach individual classes in the program, which included information about technical engineering of solar power and also the business and political issues involved with solar technology.

“It took us at the research center several years to become conversant in all of those areas on our own, so …. we really wish we’d had this course when we got into the solar business a few years ago because it would have saved us a lot of effort on our own time trying to get smart in these areas,” Toliver said. “We tried to give them a broad overview of everything that is going on with the industry right now so they could take a critical look when they are trying to assess technology or trying to understand why a given startup company has been invested in.”

Waddell, who is also an intern at Schenectady-based superconducting wire manufacturer SuperPower, said that after learning about the economics of solar energy, he thought SuperPower’s superconducting wires, which are 7 to 10 percent more efficient than traditional copper wires, would be a good answer to commercialization problems for solar panel fields that have relatively low electricity yields.

Toliver said exposing engineering students to business and economic issues is important to their career development.

“When you go through engineering schools, you really don’t learn anything about business. And not many engineering professors actually tell you how important that is until you’re actually in industry working for a company that you actually realize,” Toliver said.

Kevin McGrath, an engineer at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, said he took the solar technology class and was pleased by the networking opportunities it presented him.

“I’ve found that going to graduate school here locally has been a real good way to meet other people in the engineering profession,” McGrath said.

Kozik said he’s working with GE now to develop a wind technology class.

Categories: Business

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