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Universities team to offer dual degrees


Partnership between UI’s Tippie School and ISU’s College of Engineering unique in the United States

Rivals in aspects from athletics and student recruitment, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa have teamed to offer a dual-degree program private industry demanded to better train executives and engineers.

The impetus for the program, which integrates engineering and management principles, came from Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins Inc., a manufacturer of aviation electronics and communications for government and commercial applications. That company had been enrolling some of its mid- and upper-level management engineers and executives in the Executive Master’s of Business Administration program offered by the University of Iowa’s Henry B. Tippie School of Management since 1978. Though valuable, it didn’t quite meet the company’s needs, said John Fraser, executive director of the Tippie Executive M.B.A. program.

“They had a unique demographic of engineers whose skills they wanted to have upgraded,” Fraser said. “They wanted them to get an overall business perspective, a broader view of business tactics and strategies of the entire organization.”

A logical partner was the ISU College of Engineering, the seventh largest undergraduate engineering college in the country and recently ranked among the top 20 percent of the country’s graduate programs in engineering by U.S. News & World Report.

Doug Gemmill, an ISU associate professor and chairman of the College of Engineering’s systems engineering program, said that though the undergraduate program prepares students in specific engineering disciplines, the dual-degree program is interdisciplinary and emphasizes engineering management. It’s especially suited for companies that want to sponsor engineers on a fast management track and upgrade their employees’ engineering and business skills.

Though students receive two degrees, an M.B.A. from the University of Iowa and a master’s of systems engineering from Iowa State, that’s not its purpose, Fraser said. “It’s not about a master’s of engineering, and it’s not about a master’s of business administration,” he said. “It’s about developing skills and skill sets that allow the participants to be more productive, more efficient and more competitive within their organizations and, as a result, making their organizations more competitive in the industry and, quite frankly, making the state of Iowa more competitive.

“It shows the state is very focused on education, and they don’t just talk about it, they act upon their beliefs,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for employers in the state to provide some pretty elegant training for their future engineering leaders.”

One of the graduates, Heidi Kenkel, said the two programs “complement each other really well.” Kenkel, the supervisor of quality planning and customer satisfaction at John Deere Waterloo Works, said the program gave her both a better understanding of general business principles and a better grasp on management principles as they relate to various aspects of a project.

One aspect of the program Kenkel especially liked was that she remained in the same study group throughout the program. Her group consisted of another Deere employee and two representatives from Rockwell Collins.

“The study group was a very good way for all of us to learn and build off what each of us had gathered off various readings, classroom lectures and our own work experience,” she said. “We were able to have more discussions in comparing and contrasting how our different companies conduct business, and all of us really benefited from that.”

The 26-month, $53,500 program is billed as offering “the best of both worlds.” Dual-degree programs within the same institution are common and both UI and ISU offer them, but Fraser and Gemmill said they’re unaware of any other instances in the United States in which competing universities cooperate in such a venture.

The program, which opened in 2000, graduated its first class in December. Rockwell Collins employed 19 members of the inaugural class of 31; others had jobs with Deere & Co., Bandag Inc., HON Industries Inc., Square D Co., Maytag Corp. and Iowa State itself. Fraser anticipates that more companies, including General Mills Inc. and PepsiCo Inc.’s Quaker Oats division, will be represented in the next program, which begins in August. Recruitment for that program is currently under way.     

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