A Decade of Building Careers and Connections

10/22/19 Pratt School of Engineering

Duke’s Master of Engineering Management Online Program provides a rare combination of business, law and engineering education both online and on campus

Duke students take a fun picture at the doors of Duke Chapel
A Decade of Building Careers and Connections

When La Tondra Murray came to Duke in February 2009, she knew she’d be working for the thriving Master of Engineering Management program, then entering its 12th year of strong growth.

What she didn’t know was that she’d soon be tasked with launching a new online-based version of the program that same fall.

Working with Brad Fox, associate dean and executive director of professional masters programs, and Jeff Glass, the Hogg Family Director of Engineering Management and Entrepreneurship, Murray helped create the Duke distributed Master of Engineering Management program (originally known as “d-MEMP”) to deliver the campus program’s high-quality curriculum to full-time working professionals in homes, offices or coffee shops.

“We were very busy those first six months,” recalls Murray, director of online and distance education for the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke.  “Online education was new for us at the time, so we had to be very nimble and very experimental.”

Ten years and more than 200 graduates later, the program—now called Duke MEM Online—remains at the forefront of distance education thanks to a rare mix of online courses with on-campus residencies that have turned its successful student cohorts into something more reminiscent of a multigenerational family.

A New Approach to Engineering Management

Designed to teach engineers business management skills to prepare them for leadership roles in the technology sector, Duke’s online MEMP combines marketing, finance, intellectual property and business law, and management courses with opportunities to build expertise in customer experience and product design, data analytics and machine learning, operations and supply chain management, product management, and technology development and commercialization.

“Having the opportunity to select from a broad range of classes has enabled me to cater the program to suit my career goals,” said 2014 graduate Adam Kohn, senior polymer research and development innovation engineer at Nike. “I have been able to develop a foundation in business, entrepreneurship and law while remaining loyal to my engineering background. The program is designed with the student in mind!”

Students work through the curriculum by viewing recordings of campus classes and interacting with fellow students and faculty through email, social media, web conferencing, and instant messaging. These distance-learning classes are augmented with three weeklong residencies on Duke’s campus, where students connect with fellow distance students, campus peers, program faculty, and the larger Duke network while taking part in challenging leadership workshops emphasizing communication, creativity and collaboration.

“I felt very strongly from the beginning that I wanted this to be more than a point-and-click program. The idea of having an online program with a residential component is relatively common in business schools, but it’s not as predominant for engineering schools,” said Murray. “We’re often told that it’s a differentiator between d-MEMP and similar programs. And we see that play out on campus. Our students really look forward to the on-campus residencies. It’s a time for them to connect as a cohort, to bond to Duke and to have that campus experience.”

“The relationships I formed with faculty definitely enhanced my experience. However, the most beneficial part of the d-MEMP experience was the relationship formed with members of my cohort,” said Tiffany Cremer, d-MEMP 2011, senior innovation and design engineer at Amazon. “We related our personal and professional challenges between fields, building our combined knowledge base. Several years after graduation, we have kept in touch, and are continuing to leverage each other’s skills, knowledge and network. Even at a distance, you are part of the d-MEMP and Duke community.”

A group of students in blue shirts work on a project involving sticks in a tower shape

Building the Cohorts

The ability for members of a cohort to interact and learn from one another throughout the program is extremely important to Murray. For each group, she selects 20 to 30 applicants whom she feels provides a diverse set of knowledge bases that complement each other.

Students are typically two to five years into their careers and have come from 29 states and 10 countries to date. Some are older, some are fresh out of college and just starting a new job, but all are looking for new skill sets that will help them move into positions of leadership.

“We’re looking for broad representation across industries and organizations,” said Murray. “While a lot of the learning comes from the faculty and the experiences they have here at Duke, there’s a ton of learning that goes on within the cohort. We want to make sure people are fully equipped not only to take from the experience, but to actively contribute by virtue of their experience, background and perspective.”

Murray continues to work to bring diversity to the cohorts by building new partnerships with industry to expand the program and raise awareness in technical corporate sectors. Two examples of already successful partnerships are with Boeing and the Navy Nuclear Program, which are indicative of the demand corporations have for the training Duke’s online MEMP offers their engineers.

This year, the program is launching a new Business Foundations for Engineers certificate program that Murray hopes will become an on-ramp to the online MEMP. The certificate program consists of four online classes taken over the course of two years.

“It might be just what some people need to get a small sampler of business classes,” said Murray. “But if they really enjoy the classes and excel, then we’d love to have that talent continue on into the degree program. It’s a great way to get to know Duke and find out if the program is right for them.”

Students celebrate with banners and cakes

The Next 10 Years

Besides offering the certificate program, looking to expand both class offerings and sizes, and accepting applicants into the program in the spring semester for the first time this year, Murray knows at least one more thing at will change for the online MEMP over the years ahead—the technology.

“We have more faculty interaction than we did when we first started, with the technology evolving from Google Hangouts at first to mostly using Zoom today,” said Murray. “We’ve never been prescriptive about what students have to use to communicate, which has allowed us to learn from them what the latest, greatest technology is in terms of chat or video conferencing.”

But no matter what the future may hold, one thing is for certain—d-MEMP will continue to create close-knit communities and success stories.

“It’s very common for students to come back in their second year and tell us they’ve either been promoted or they have a new opportunity with another company, sometimes through networking with their cohort peers,” said Murray. “It’s not about getting the degree and suddenly having this approval to go forward and contribute. Students can practice what they’re learning even before they have their degree in hand.”

And while there’s always been an interest in cohort community, over time students have forged connections even across the program, added Murray. “Whether it’s weddings, having children, traveling or starting new jobs, they’re still connected. And I’ve gotten to see them all grow together, which has been extremely satisfying.”

More About