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Fall 2006
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Grad school

Advanced engineering degrees spur success

Experts agree that graduate study is particularly beneficial for minorities and women

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Abigail Torres, assistant engineer for the Navy and part-time MS engineering student at USC, is ready for takeoff from the USS Lincoln.

Abigail Torres, assistant engineer for the Navy and part-time MS engineering student at USC, is ready for takeoff from the USS Lincoln.

Julius Korley, left, a PhD student in biomedical engineering at Cornell, works in the lab with advisor Dr David Putnam.

Julius Korley, left, a PhD student in biomedical engineering at Cornell, works in the lab with advisor Dr David Putnam.

Engineers' value to their employers as well as the progress of their careers depend on their knowledge of the latest technology, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). So it's essential for engineers to continue their educations throughout their careers. Organizational representatives of GEM, SHPE and NSBE agree.

Gary Cruz, assistant programs director of the Advancing Hispanic Excellence in Technology, Engineering, Math and Science (AHETEMS) program at SHPE (http://oneshpe.shpe.org), observes that people who have advanced degrees, particularly PhDs, are more likely to move up in corporate America, play leadership roles and make significant contributions.

Pamela Sharif, publisher of NSBE magazine (www.nsbe.org), and Leigh Hayden, director of marketing at the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM, www.gemfellowship.org), concur. GEM, SHPE and NSBE each provide scholarships and incentive programs for graduate engineering students.

Minorities needed in research
"The demographic shifts in our nation's population are increasing the number of African Americans, Latinos and other people of color. It is vitally important for these groups to be able to contribute to technological innovation to maintain our country's prominence as a tech leader in the global marketplace," Hayden notes. A PhD is essential for anyone who aspires to a top research job, she adds.

Sharif, Cruz and Hayden agree that minorities must be encouraged to pursue advanced technical education and become leaders in industry, academia and research. These are the sectors that produce technological innovations and make, as Cruz states, "an applied contribution to the quality of life."

Cruz observes that many current faculty members will retire soon, creating more faculty and research positions for grads with PhDs; when diverse PhDs fill those slots, they are in a good position to provide valuable mentoring for students. Sharif notes that corporate engineering jobs are getting more competitive, and employers are looking for engineers with complex knowledge in specific areas.

USC and Cornell step up grad programs
Across the nation universities are responding. At Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) minority and female graduate students are the target of an intense recruitment effort, says professor Zellman Warhaft, associate dean of diversity for the College of Engineering and tenured professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering. The Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professorate, a collaboration with Syracuse University, RPI and University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, is conducted in partnership with the Sloan Foundation. It offers a summer research internship for minority graduate students as well as two-year Sloan scholarships. In 2004 there were five students in the program; fifteen participated in 2005. The application review process for 2006 began in January.

Students in the Sloan program, as with almost all programs at Cornell, are full time and typically make a five-year commitment. Financial support is guaranteed if the student does well. Each student must identify a mentor soon after acceptance. Weekly lunches include faculty and students to build a sense of community. The summer program includes lunches, cultural events and a mini symposium.

Wide-ranging programs
The graduate school concentrations currently available in engineering are wide-ranging. The University of Southern California (USC, Los Angeles, CA), for instance, offers more than thirty of its master of science degrees in engineering entirely on line (den.usc.edu) without any on-campus attendance.

Prospective graduate students also have an array of engineering possibilities at Cornell. Minority and female students have tended to display a strong interest in biological and chemical engineering, Warhaft says, as well as biomedical engineering, a new major for Cornell. Engineering grad students at Cornell are currently 20 percent women and 6 percent minority. The school is working hard to increase minority outreach funding.

Cornell assists all its multi-cultural students through the diversity office and its support of campus chapters of professional organizations like NSBE, SWE, SHPE and AISES.

Julius Korley changes disciplines to study at Cornell
Julius Korley

Julius Korley

Julius Korley started in 2004 as a student at Boston University School of Medicine (BU, Boston, MA). His wife is a Cornell post-doctoral Fellow in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Korley was attracted to biomedical engineering. "Instead of treating nine or ten patients each day for the rest of my life, I could develop a new treatment or intervention and impact a much greater number of people." In 2005 he transferred to Cornell.

Korley has a 1998 BS in biology from Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA). He's adding computational skills and chemistry expertise; his knowledge of biology will be useful later.

In the six years before Korley returned to school, he got valuable experience in research. He worked as a research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (Washington, DC), then as a research technician at Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, MA), and finally as a research associate at Momenta Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge, MA). His work in government, academia and the corporate world have given him insight into many different sides of research, an advantage as he tackles his graduate studies.

Korley's advice to undergraduates who are thinking of continuing on to grad school is to get involved in research as soon as possible as an undergraduate. "The learning curve is shorter if you learn the fundamentals of research as an undergraduate. A research career is not for everybody," he cautions. "You'll have many failures and few successes." Korley hopes to graduate in 2009.

Beatrice Romeu: grad student in Cornell's masters program
Beatrice Romeu

Beatrice Romeu

Born in Puerto Rico, Beatrice Romeu is a full-time student at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). She graduated in May 2005 from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez with a BS in ChE, and went directly into the masters program at Cornell. She wants to work in engineering management in the pharmaceutical or consumer products industry and feels that a masters is the degree she needs.

Cornell was a major adjustment for Romeu, whose first language is Spanish. Her classes were in English, and she was far from home and friends. "The first month was the worst," Romeu recalls. "Now I realize that Cornell is so diverse. It has helped me to see the world in new ways."

Romeu says that student work experiences were invaluable in helping her prepare for grad school. As an undergrad she spent six months as a co-op with Abbott Puerto Rico Operations in Arecibo, PR and then did a summer internship at Merck in West Point, PA. The experiences helped her clarify what she wanted out of grad school.

She recommends that undergraduates go right into a graduate program. "Everything is fresh in your head," she says. "If you work before you go to graduate school, you find you have other responsibilities and may not return to complete your education."

Romeu says engineering is in her blood. Her father is an ME, and she has two brothers in engineering: one is an ME pursuing his MBA and the other is studying EE. Romeu plans to graduate in May 2006.

USC's Abigail Torres: a full-time job and distance learning
Abigail Torres

Abigail Torres

Abigail Torres works for the U.S. Navy as a systems engineer. Her job is to integrate hardware and digital software systems and data across different platforms, like an aircraft carrier and its aircraft. Her focus is mission planning tools that work across many different aircraft models.

Torres' workload is heavy, and she would not be able to continue her academic studies without USC's distance learning program.

She started her studies in 2004, enrolling part time in the masters-level engineering management program, which she describes as a hybrid of an MBA and engineering. The program focuses on business topics like economics, systems operations, program management, six sigma and lean manufacturing concepts, along with technical work.

When Torres returned to school after a two-year hiatus from academia, she realized that distance learning was a perfect fit. Wherever she travels she can access her courses on the Internet. She downloads her course documents before the class begins and then tunes into a live video feed for lectures.

Torres says that the professors encourage active participation from the distance learning students. If she has a question, all she has to do is call an 800 student call-in number or send an instant message that the teacher's assistant relays to the professor. She submits her homework via e-mail and says that the test schedule does not interfere with her job obligations.

Torres acknowledges that it is challenging to balance a full-time job as demanding as hers with a personal life and graduate level course work. Her 2002 manufacturing systems engineering degree from California State University-Northridge (Northridge, CA) prepared her to think in terms of numbers and equations and develop rational skill sets. The business concepts in the engineering management program require her to think in a different way, but she has already reaped the rewards of the experience. Two recent courses, in managing government-funded programs and interface design, were immediately helpful on the job.

Torres says that waiting two years to return to school may have been too long, but she does suggest that undergraduates considering grad school get some industry experience first. She finds it easier to analyze and understand case studies and business problems discussed in class because of her familiarity with similar issues she's faced at work.

Torres is the eldest child of four from a working-class family. Her parents migrated from Mexico, but returned after Torres' father died when she was nine years old. She finished high school in Mexico and then came back to the U.S. for college. She is the first in her family to get a professional degree.

Torres is taking one class per semester, all she has time for. She expects to finish the engineering management program in the fall of 2007.

Choices at Clarkson
Susan Powers

Susan Powers

Clarkson University (Potsdam, NY) also offers a range of opportunities. Susan Powers, associate dean of engineering for research and graduate studies, says there are several choices for grad students at both masters and PhD levels. The college, located in the Adirondack foothills near the Mohawk nation, offers degrees in chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, engineering and global operations management, engineering science, environmental science and engineering, and mechanical engineering.

For students who work while pursuing a PhD, an external program combines distance learning with some dissertation requirements at a college close to the student's work or home. Students only need to visit Clarkson to meet with their PhD committee members.

Powers notes that Clarkson was the first university in the country to have a student chapter of AISES. It also has many other support and professional organizations for minority graduate students, including NSBE, SWE and SHPE.

Powers reports that more than half the women enrolled in MS and PhD engineering programs at Clarkson choose environmental science and engineering or rehabilitation and biomedical engineering. Students need a BS or BA, not necessarily in engineering, from an accredited school to matriculate and must take the GRE. Work and other experiences such as travel abroad are considered in a prospective student's application.

Clarkson's Melissa Richards seeks an MSME
Melissa Richards

Melissa Richards

Melissa Richards, second year MS student in mechanical engineering at Clarkson University, is enrolled full time. Her 2004 BSME is also from Clarkson. Richards earned an AS in engineering science from Nassau Community College (Garden City, NY). She hopes to continue on to her PhD, because she wants to teach college-level engineering.

One requirement of the fellowship program that funds her studies is that she participate in outreach to grades K-12. She taught a course on alternative energy to eighth grade science and technology students in the fall 2004 semester and a rehab and biomed course to high schoolers in the spring of 2006. Although teaching at the college level is still her goal, she is intrigued by her experiences with younger students and is keeping an open mind.

Richards says that she has been able to leverage the knowledge she acquired as an undergraduate, and has had some of the same professors. What she was not prepared for was the challenge of setting and keeping her own deadlines and working pretty much on her own. "There is nobody to hold you accountable on a day-to-day basis," she says. Her current research involves complex computational modeling in fluid dynamics. She's found that weekly meetings with her advisor help her stay focused and provide encouragement.

Richards tells undergraduates to "take the summer off before starting graduate school so you don't get burnt out." She also emphasizes that undergrad internships are very helpful. She interned at Trigen-Nassau Energy Corp (Garden City, LI) while an undergrad.

It was a sixth grade teacher, Mrs Moses, who believed in Richards and fostered her enthusiasm for learning. "I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for her," says Richards, who grew up with her aunt in Westbury, NY while her fourteen siblings and parents lived in Jamaica, West Indies.

Richards plans to be the first African American woman to complete her PhD in ME at Clarkson, aiming to finish in 2010. But first she'll take a year off after she finishes her masters to teach English in China.

Mónica Palomo works with soil contaminants at Kansas State
Mónica Palomo

Mónica Palomo

Mónica Palomo is a PhD student in civil engineering at Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS). She expects to graduate in 2007.

She's a teaching and research assistant, investigating enzymatic polymerization and immobilization of soil phenolic contaminants to prevent them from leaking into the ground water supply. Her current research is an extension of work she began as a masters student in CE at Kansas State. She got her MSCE in 2003, and presented her research at the 225th national meeting of the American Chemical Society conference in New Orleans.

Palomo did field work in Mexico before she started her masters. Her first job was in hydraulics and bridge design, but it was her work for the Guanajuato state water commission that introduced her to the problem of water quality and quantity, and sparked her interest in environmental issues.

Palomo encourages undergraduates to get involved in research to get a feel for graduate life. She also points out that there are many funding opportunities for undergraduates who want to give research a try.

Palomo received her BS in civil engineering at Universidad de Guanajuato in Guanajuato, Mexico. She was one of the few women in her engineering classes, and sometimes heard people around her claiming that "engineering isn't for girls." But she has always had the support of her family, who taught her that she could accomplish whatever she wanted.

One of Palomo's biggest challenges now is managing her time. She is married to another PhD student and has a four-year-old daughter, so she must optimize every moment and be very organized to complete her research and also have time for her family. "Being a mom is such an amazing thing. My daughter gives me the extra energy to do what I need to do. I want to make a difference in the world because she is a part of it," she says.


JB Bell is a freelance writer in Palo Alto, CA.

Check websites for current information.
Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering
  • MS: aerospace, bioengineering, chemical, civil, construction, electrical, engineering science, industrial, materials, mechanical
  • Master of engineering: a tri-university degree offered by Arizona's three universities: ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University
  • PhD: aerospace, bioengineering, chemical, civil, computer science, electrical, engineering science, industrial, mechanical
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning available at masters level
  • Boston University (Boston, MA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS and PhD: biomedical, computer, electrical, mechanical, manufacturing, photonics, systems
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning in manufacturing engineering
  • Brown University (Providence, RI)
    Division of Engineering
  • MS and PhD: biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical
  • Part-time program available
  • Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, CA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: aerospace, biochemical, bioengineering, biomedical, civil, electrical, engineering management (joint degree with MBA), environmental, industrial, integrated technology management, materials, mechanical, transportation planning, water
  • Part-time program available
  • Cal Poly Pomona (Pomona, CA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: engineering management, electrical, mechanical, structural
  • Part-time program available
  • Clarkson University (Potsdam, NY)
    Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering
  • MS: chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, mechanical; engineering and global operations management, engineering science
  • PhD: chemical, civil, electrical and computer, environmental, mechanical; engineering science
  • Distance learning for external PhD program (designed for working professionals)
  • Columbia University (New York, NY)
    The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • MS: biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, earth and environmental, electrical, financial, materials, mechanical
  • PhD: biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, earth and environmental, electrical, materials, mechanical
  • Part-time program available
  • Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
    College of Engineering
  • Masters: aerospace, agriculture, biological, biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, engineering management, engineering physics, engineering mechanics, geological sciences, environmental, operations research, CS and materials, mechanical, systems
  • PhD: aerospace, agriculture, biological, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, earth and atmospheric sciences, electrical, information science, environmental, materials; applied math, mechanics and physics
  • Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute(DAGSI, Kettering, OH)
    3-school consortium:
    Air Force Institute of Technology (Wright Patterson AFB, OH)
    Graduate School of Engineering & Management
  • MS: aeronautics, astronautics, materials, systems, space, computer, electrical, engineering physics, engineering management, environmental engineering and science, nuclear
  • PhD: aeronautics, astronautics, materials, systems, computer, electrical, engineering physics, nuclear

    Wright State University (Dayton, OH)
    School of Graduate Studies
  • MS and PhD: biomedical, human factors, computer science and engineering, electrical, mechanical, materials
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning available in some departments

    University of Dayton (Dayton, OH)
    School of Engineering
  • MS: aerospace, civil, chemical, electrical; electro-optics, engineering management, management science, mechanics, mechanical, materials
  • PhD: aerospace, electrical, electro-optics, mechanical, materials
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning program in engineering management
  • Iowa State University (Ames, IA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS and PhD: aerospace, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical, manufacturing, systems
  • Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: architectural; agricultural, biological, chemical, civil, construction, electrical, engineering management, environmental, industrial, machinery, mechanical, nuclear, operations research, software; CS
  • PhD: biological; agricultural, chemical, civil, construction, electrical, environmental, industrial, machinery, mechanical, nuclear; CS
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning programs available
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
    Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • MS: biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical and computer science, materials, mechanical
  • PhD: biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical and computer science, materials, mechanical
  • Master of Engineering Management
  • Part-time program available in many MS programs
  • Penn State (University Park, PA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: acoustics, aerospace, agriculture, architectural, biological, bioengineering, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, engineering science and mechanics, environmental, industrial, manufacturing, materials, mechanical, nuclear
  • PhD: acoustics, aerospace, agriculture, biological, bioengineering, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, engineering science and mechanics, environmental, industrial, materials, mechanical, nuclear
  • Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
    School of Engineering
  • MS and PhD: aeronautics and astronautics, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical, manufacturing, systems
  • Distance learning
  • Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)
    College of Engineering and Computer Science
  • MS and PhD: aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental, mechanical
  • University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: civil, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical, manufacturing
  • PhD: applied science and technology, bioengineering, civil, computer, electrical, materials, mechanical, manufacturing
  • University of California at San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
    Department of Computer Science and Engineering
  • MS and PhD: computer science and engineering
  • Part-time program available for MS students
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
  • MS and PhD: aerospace, biomedical, biosystems/agricultural, chemical, civil, electrical, geological, industrial, materials, mechanical
  • Some part-time programs available
  • University of Southern California (USC) (Los Angeles, CA)
    Viterbi School of Engineering
  • MS: aerospace, astronautics, biomedical, chemical, civil, computational fluid and solid mechanics, computer science, electrical, engineering management, industrial, materials, mechanical, medical devices and diagnostics, petroleum; product development, systems
  • Distance learning available
  • Villanova University (Villanova, PA)
    College of Engineering
  • MS: chemical, civil, computer, electrical, mechanical, systems, transportation, water resources; technology management
  • Interdisciplinary PhD
  • Part-time program available
  • Distance learning for MS: civil, electrical, mechanical, systems
  • Wake Forest University (Winston Salem, NC)
    School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences
  • MS/PhD program: biomedical (joint program with Virginia Institute of Technology)
  • Distance learning for some classes
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