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‘For me, it’s definitely about finding my inspiration through things like personal pain points.’
From managing and understanding vast amounts of data to incorporating new automation tools into business workflows, the challenges facing businesses today are much more technologically complex and varied than in years past, and they require the skills of both business managers and engineers.
That’s why leaders with broad management skills and deep expertise in engineering approaches and processes, who can design, develop, and launch new human-centric products and solutions to society’s problems, are in high demand.
To address this need, Columbia Business School and Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science have combined forces to launch the Dual MBA/Executive MS in Engineering and Applied Science program, channeling the deep knowledge and expertise of the two top-ranked schools.
The new program, which launches today and will welcome its first class in fall 2023, teaches both business skills and cutting-edge science to those who want to launch new companies or become leaders in an established technological enterprise in roles such as vice president of engineering, COO, CTO, CIO, or senior product manager.
Students will be supported with access to career resources from both Columbia Business School and Columbia Engineering. You can learn more about the program here.
As Columbia Business School Dean Costis Maglaras points out, the growing use of data is transforming business models and creating new products and services, ushering in a new management culture and changing how we work.
In today’s business landscape, “every company is also a technology company,” says Maglaras, and students who want to thrive in this world should be thinking about disruption and opportunities. Business education must evolve to both embrace that world and to better prepare students for the digital future.
The business leaders of tomorrow will need to engage and collaborate with engineers and data scientists to produce collaborative, innovative work, he adds.
“Engineering innovations are driving change and disruption across industries and functional roles,” says Maglaras, noting that many innovations in engineering now address challenging problems and provide solutions that improve on past business processes.
Dean of Columbia Engineering Shih-Fu Chang says the new 20-month degree program will emphasize four key elements: societal challenges, breakthrough technologies, leadership, and a human-centric design approach. “We think of this program as something that is targeted toward solutions that people will adopt and use, so design is an important component,” says Chang.
The program will offer a broad overview of engineering rather than focusing on specific types of engineering specializations, according to Garud Iyengar, the Tang Family Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and senior vice dean of research and academic programs at the engineering school. “It’s about the engineering design process, to understand and identify how you solve an engineering problem,” says Iyengar, who was a key player in the design of the new curriculum.
This training will be matched with business education and skill development in leadership, strategy, marketing, and management, says Maglaras. He adds that students will also receive unparalleled access to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors, uniquely preparing them for their future roles.
“Our dual MBAxMS degree provides strong simultaneous expertise in engineering and business, offering the ideal background for a career of impact,” he says.
Teaching students how to explore and develop emerging technologies that could be used to solve real business problems is a core tenet of the new program, and it lives up to Columbia Engineering’s mission to develop innovations that impact humanity, notes Iyengar. Each year, students will focus on developing solutions to the problems society is facing right now, he adds.
Following completion of the engineering core, students in the new program will have an opportunity to focus on a particular area of engineering, such as materials, software design, robotics, or machine learning, Iyengar says. They will also complete a capstone project that focuses on a very specific problem and builds on their broad knowledge or background and their chosen specialization.
On the business side, students will pursue either an entrepreneurial track that leads to the launch of a startup or an enterprise track that guides a student toward a leadership role at an established company.
Iyengar says the program is designed to provide students who already have some industry experience the training they need to aim for leadership roles, such as people in midlevel positions who are a few years into their careers. “That’s when they can truly start appreciating the components that we are offering in this dual degree,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an acceleration in the adoption of new technologies. “We are seeing an engineering renaissance right now,” says Iyengar. “AI is sweeping through industry. New technologies around materials are sweeping through industry. A big automotive focus right now is on batteries. A lot of rapid technological growth is happening.”
He notes that Facebook parent Meta Platforms is investing heavily in augmented and virtual reality technology, adding that the engineering school is also exploring AR and VR capabilities.
“We’re ready for the big time in some ways,” Iyengar says, adding that he hopes the dual degree program will be a couple of years ahead of its time. “We want to prepare people because there already is a need. Some corporations are at the forefront of it, but everything is going to change, and we want to be participating in that revolution.”
Columbia Engineering Dean Chang says innovations in materials science are changing the way vehicles, appliances, bridges, and even fashion items are made. He says a faculty member in the engineering school is working on a new bio-enabled material that can be used to make sneakers or clothing that are recyclable. “You can see how technology is evolving, and evolving so quickly in the past decades, and that is driving the innovation in the business world,” he says.
That evolving innovation is very much alive in New York City, which offers a thriving startup ecosystem. Chang points to the diversity of the city’s entrepreneurial community, which includes new companies in finance, health care, life sciences, fashion, media, and law.
“When I talk to my friends who are in the VC investment world, they really appreciate the founders and entrepreneurs in the New York region,” says Chang. He adds that Silicon Valley’s engineers may be developing a new car or battery or a semiconductor chip, but “that ecosystem doesn't have the vitality of facilitating cross-disciplinary innovations like New York does.”
A case in point is Carolyn Butler, EMBA ’18, a former chemical engineer who worked in plastics, petrochemicals, refining, and agrochemicals for more than 15 years.
Butler launched a business venture out of Columbia’s startup lab in June 2020 after discovering there was no recycling infrastructure for baby items. Borobabi, the company she founded, is a public-benefit, venture-backed company that is rooted in the concept of borrowing instead of owning. As America’s first circular retailer, Borobabi started with children’s apparel, because of its short lifespan, and is quickly applying its circular model to new products.
“I knew that I could, coming from chemical engineering where almost everything is recycled, take those principles of circularity and recycling and apply them to an industry that was so alarmingly linear and wasteful, like fashion,” says Butler.
The company is the first in the United States to compost post-consumer waste at commercial scale, “which only we can do because of the science behind how we source products,” says Butler.
The Dual MBA/Executive MS in Engineering and Applied Science degree program is focused on producing professionals such as Butler: an engineer with experience and training who launched a company with societal and environmental impact by obtaining critical business skills.
Iyengar looks toward the future with the hope of educating and inspiring more leaders like Butler who can help change the world. He adds that in five years, he’d like to have many more graduates of the program that have “an anecdote to tell of this kind,” referring to Butler’s success story.
“The outcome of their efforts could be a new product, a new solution, or a new company they found,” says Chang. “We hope this can be an example for other schools or other organizations in other parts of the world, other countries, who also aspire to train new leaders for their society.”
Iyengar emphasizes that the success of the program relies on close collaboration between the business and engineering schools and a strong investment and commitment to it.
This dual degree is the latest collaboration between the schools, he adds, cementing “a very deep relationship” and providing students with the skills they need to help businesses meet the significant challenges they will face in the coming years.
‘For me, it’s definitely about finding my inspiration through things like personal pain points.’
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