By Patrick Kurp
Special to the Rice News
The Rice University Faculty Senate has approved the creation of a new professional master's degree in the George R. Brown School of Engineering, the Master of Engineering Management and Leadership (MEML), to become available to students beginning in the fall.
The degree will be administered by the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) in both online and in-person formats. Admissions standards for the two are identical and neither will require the writing of a thesis, but students must choose a format when applying. The in-person option will launch this fall and the online option begins in spring 2022.
"The MEML degree is designed to train engineering managers not where most industries currently are, but where all of them who will thrive in Industry 4.0 must go," said Fred Higgs, vice provost for academic affairs and faculty director of RCEL. "In other words, the MEML degree has been designed to go where the industry 'hockey puck' is headed."
Higgs said engineering management fills the gap between engineering and management rather than merely being a combination of the two.
"It is aimed at engineers and technical persons at companies and startups who want to lead engineering, not leave engineering or other technical careers," Higgs said.
Caroline Levander, Rice's vice president for global and digital strategy, said, "The online MEML degree is designed to help fulfill Rice's commitment to serving, through digital innovation, the broader public in Houston and beyond. We want to reach those very smart, nontraditional students who are working full time. This new degree is designed to make engineering executives out of engineers."
Levander said the degree also represents progress toward achieving goals set out in Rice's Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade, particularly building nationally and internationally renowned graduate programs and extending Rice's reach and impact.
"We have entered a Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the physical, digital and biological spheres are converging," Higgs said. "The growing number of companies working to create products and services in this new revolution make up 'Industry 4.0.' None of the previous revolutions spawned new technologies at the pace of this one."
MEML will build on the accomplishments of RCEL, which was founded in 2009.
"The MEML degree will leverage our nationally known undergraduate engineering leadership certificate program's reputation," RCEL said in its degree proposal to the Faculty Senate.
The proposal also emphasized the industry leadership experience of the RCEL faculty, including its professors in the practice.
"Today's engineers need the skills and confidence to unlock their potential to meet the challenges associated with this latest industrial revolution head-on," said Kaz Karwowski, executive director of RCEL. "Twenty years from now, today's engineers may be working in industries using technologies that don't yet exist. With Rice University located in Houston, which has the nation's second-largest concentration of engineers, we want Rice MEML alumni to be at the forefront of that revolution."
With evening and weekend courses, Rice's MEML degree offers students flexible scheduling options with both online or on-campus degree programs, as well as full-time and part-time opportunities. Recent graduates and working professionals in engineering or related areas are expected to apply to the program.
Higgs, the John and Ann Doerr Professor of Mechanical Engineering and co-director of the Additive Manufacturing, Performance and Tribology Center, will serve as the inaugural faculty director of the MEML degree program. Along with other labs at Rice, Higgs' research lab addresses several Industry 4.0 technologies, including additive manufacturing (or 3D printing), digital twins and machine learning.
Other technologies in Industry 4.0 are big data, autonomous robotics and vehicles, blockchain, advanced materials, quantum computing, augmented reality, cybersecurity, simulation-based engineering and the Internet of Things. Students will have the opportunity to learn about these technologies within their chosen engineering specialization areas.
The new degree will consist of four courses in engineering management and leadership; courses in engineering economics, applied statistics and data science; and a specialization consisting of three graduate courses in a chosen department within the school of engineering. Instead of choosing a specialization from an engineering department, MEML students may opt to choose from one of three emerging disciplines: data science, financial engineering and industrial engineering.
The degree culminates in a capstone project in which students are expected to devise Industry 4.0 solutions to real-world problems while exhibiting the skill of an engineering manager leader.
"We have many master's degrees, all focused on strong technical foundations in a given discipline," said Luay Nakhleh, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering. "MEML differs from them in that it combines technical foundations with engineering management skills, thus providing students with paths to leadership in industry. This is the first such program in our school and we are excited about it."
To learn more about the MEML degree, sign up for one of the live information sessions.
– Patrick Kurp is a science writer in Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering.