Master’s programs custom-designed to meet industry sectors’ needs

UBC Masters of Engineering Leadership students discuss case studies within their collaborative studio space. supplied

UBC Masters of Engineering Leadership students discuss case studies within their collaborative studio space. supplied

When UBC was creating its new professional master’s degree programs for early- and mid-career engineers, the leaders in the Faculty of Applied Science began with an innovative premise: identify industries experiencing significant growth and then ask experts within those industries about the skills they most needed from their mid-level employees.“

We started with these high-level needs and then designed our programs around them,” says Tamara Etmannski, the academic director of the Faculty of Applied Science Professional Masters Programs. “Each program’s project-based curriculum follows the value chain of an industry sector from beginning to end so that students get a multidisciplinary technical perspective on the sector as a whole.”

It’s a novel approach that appealed to student Alice Kruchten, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering from UBC in 2010 and has worked with consulting company Keystone Environmental over the past five years on projects related to water treatment and civil engineering design.

Ms. Kruchten took a year’s leave of absence to pursue the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) degree, as she felt “it was designed for what industry is looking for. My program, in integrated water management, builds on specific skills valuable to me and applicable to my job. Focusing on water issues, and discovering research tools that inform my professional outlook, will be a long-term benefit.” 

Launched in January 2016, the MEL has 75 students enrolled in seven programs that include advanced materials manufacturing, clean energy engineering, dependable software systems, green bio-products, integrated water management, naval architecture and marine engineering, and urban systems. More programs are currently under development (

The students – who come from 16 different countries – spend 60 per cent of their time on multidisciplinary technical classes in their specialist program and come together to take classes in business skills and leadership offered by the Sauder School of Business.

“No matter which industry employer we spoke with, they all identified the need for mid-career engineers who can communicate with team members from across engineering disciplines as well as the organization as a whole,” says Dr. Etmannski.

That balance was a key selling point for student Rushil Vallabh, who graduated in 2012 from the Dubai campus of Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University with a degree in engineering and management and worked for several years with Pfizer in a project management role. Although Mr. Vallabh had intended to do a master’s degree with a focus on oil and gas, when he learned about research being done at UBC in the field of clean energy, he changed direction.

As an MEL student in the clean energy engineering program, he says the technical courses are giving him opportunities “to apply all my knowledge from my undergraduate degree” in a field that he is passionate about. “But this degree is so well rounded – you get in-depth technical courses balanced by some of the learning you’d cover in an MBA program. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Mr. Vallabh likes the fact that he is taking the business courses alongside students from the other MEL programs. “We’re a huge family,” he says, adding that the designated studio space for the MEL students provides a natural hub for working on group projects or relaxing after an intense day of classes.

Ms. Kruchten also enjoys the business classes, saying that hearing the perspectives of her peers who have worked internationally in diverse industries and with different areas of focus has been very enriching. “We learn from each other and our varied experiences.”

Graduates of the program will be in high demand, says Dr. Etmannski. “They will be technical leaders who understand the diverse engineering aspects of an industry value chain and who are able to communicate with those on the business side of the organization. It’s a program that’s setting them up to advance their careers while making very meaningful contributions to both their employers and society as a whole.”

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