Stevens Technical Leadership Master’s Program Completes Systems Lens and Moves to Next Phase of Studies

An inaugural cohort of 12 students representing a range of industry sectors recently completed the first of three lenses of Stevens Institute of Technology’s Master of Engineering in Technical Leadership (METL) program, which started in September 2011 at the University’s Washington, D.C. location. Technical Leadership is the first-ever Stevens program to include faculty, curriculum and support from all four schools within the University. The program brings together Stevens’ 140-year legacy of broad-based education and research at the intersection of engineering innovation and business entrepreneurship.

“We are proud to have established an impressive program which engages a notable group of leaders from a range of industries and government in a highly-collaborative learning experience,” said Debra Facktor Lepore, director of the METL program and industry professor in the School of Systems & Enterprises (SSE) at Stevens. “Our first cohort of 12 participants represents a cross-section of experienced leaders from the defense, telecommunications and space sectors.”

The METL program fills an industry and government need to prepare technical leaders with a broad set of skills and competencies to help them effectively manage complex technical organizations. Technical leaders from across industry and government contributed to the formation of the Technical Leadership program through their involvement in chief engineer forums hosted by Stevens that preceded the program. This research identified a gap in formal education for top-level technical leaders, such as chief engineers, chief architects and chief technical officers. The program is also informed by research conducted by Stevens for the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), funded through the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) that Stevens leads for the Department of Defense.

“I am privileged to support the Stevens Technical Leadership Program,” noted Virginia Ruesterholz, executive vice president of Verizon and a Stevens alumna, trustee and SSE advisory board member. “It is through a program of this caliber that we find our next innovators and leaders. It is a direct path toward the future success of our country and our companies.”

The 12-course, 20-month program is divided into three lenses – Systems, Business and Enterprise – that align with a technical leader’s career growth within an organization. Two additional “thread” courses are conducted in parallel and woven through the lenses to provide an ongoing emphasis on leadership, communications, ethics and mentoring. Sponsors of the METL program include Lockheed Martin, Verizon, General Dynamics, Kongsberg Protech Systems, and NASA.

“At Lockheed Martin, our technical community is vital to innovating solutions to global challenges,” said Jeffrey J. Wilcox, vice president of engineering at Lockheed Martin. “We depend on our engineers, scientists and technicians for the development and assured operation of complex systems. This program at Stevens will help us develop the pipeline of technical talent needed for the future.”

The Systems lens, led by Dr. Mike Pennotti of SSE, consisted of four courses that included renowned faculty from across Stevens as well as guest lecturers from organizations such as NASA, the FAA, Sandia National Laboratories, Nokia, and the Channel Tunnel project.  Dr. Bill Robinson, SSE, led the integrated team project, an intense effort that spanned the eight months of the lens.

“When we created the Systems lens, we knew it had to be different from our normal systems coursework,” said Pennotti.  “The course names themselves reflect the diversity of experiences we are sharing in the classroom. From ‘Deciding What to Build and Why’ to ‘Managing Evolution and Deciding What’s Next,’ our participants experience what it is like to lead a full technical lifecycle of a complex project.”

Successful technical endeavors depend, to a great extent, on working with, through, and for other stakeholders. Dr. Pete Dominick of Stevens’ Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management, led the thread course on “Personal Effectiveness as a Leader,” focusing on the human side of leadership and how it relates to technical programs and business decisions. He guided each participant through a process to analyze his or her own strengths and development needs when it comes to addressing complexity, influencing, developing others and building relationships.

“The METL program has made me a better leader,” noted Craig Frost, a participant from Verizon Wireless. “The thread course generated deep personal introspection and development that has helped me identify my blind spots and given me a very clear understanding of what I need to address to become not only a better leader, but a better person.”

In addition to their coursework, participants are interacting in a real and immediate way through mentoring relationships with technical leaders from their sponsoring organizations. The mentors engage throughout the program and help participants apply what they learn in the context of their roles and organizations. Dr. Mike Griffin, eminent scholar and professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University of Alabama in Huntsville and former NASA administrator, shared his perspectives as a technical leader with all of the mentors and participants at the first Mentor Dinner in November 2011.

“The Stevens METL program has energized and reinforced my commitment to reach higher levels of technical leadership excellence,” said Rick Whitty, a participant from Lockheed Martin. “As a senior technical leader, I am dynamically applying what I’ve learned through lectures, coursework and case studies to elevate my level of effectiveness and performance. Having completed the Systems lens of the program, I have a refined view of how I will impact teams and organizations using a powerful system lens framework.”

Pauline Clark, a participant from Verizon, added, “The guest lecturers are from the top ranks in their field. Their insights from music and architecture to government and space are compelling and priceless in value.” 

The Business lens is now underway, starting with “Competitive Strategy Development and Execution,” taught by Dr. Ann Murphy of the Howe School. The second thread also kicked off in April, focusing on how leaders manage organizational effectiveness, and the Enterprise lens begins this fall. All courses feature a line-up of renowned faculty from across Stevens as well as guest lecturers from a variety of fields.

“The Stevens METL Program offers an eclectic mix of professors, business professionals and guest speakers that encourages technology leadership, intellectual and cultural diversity, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking,” noted Steven Scott, chief engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a METL participant. “Where else can you find one of the world’s top guitarists teaching valuable lessons in innovation and the learning organization? Stevens really is the Innovation University.”