Published: May 16, 2019

For working professionals, the decision to return to college can be complicated. In most cases, the first consideration is what’s driving the decision — it could be career advancement, a change of profession, relocating to another city or state or simply the desire to continue to learn and grow. It can often be a combination of factors.

In the case of engineers and technical professionals who are looking into how to become an engineering manager, returning to college to earn an advanced degree focused on leadership and management provides an ideal path and can provide a significant career boost.

If management is on your career radar and you are doing research on the available options to get you there, one of the most important considerations when it comes to distinguishing between high-quality engineering management programs is the curriculum. More specifically, the relevancy of the courses and work you will complete as it relates to the career needs of today’s managers and leaders.

One of the most important things you want as an engineering or technology professional striving to advance into a leadership and management role is a program that is dynamic and evolves its offerings to align with evolutions in technology, management or the workplace.

For example, the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program at CU Boulder (EMP), works closely with faculty who have extensive industry expertise, outside partners, and leaders at some of the country’s most respected technical companies and organizations to evolve curricular offerings to make sure they reflect what’s happening right now in business and industry. In the past few academic terms alone, six new courses were added, including Leading Technical Organizations, Aerospace Project Management, and Advanced Project, Program, and Portfolio Management. The Program’s emphasis is always on teaching students skills they can immediately apply in their workplaces.

Current, Relevant & Practical

Dr. Michael ReadeyA great example of the emphasis CU Boulder EMP places on empowering students seeking a degree in engineering management with the most current, relevant and practical skill sets is the work of professor, Dr. Michael Readey. His courses in Product Development and Design, Entrepreneurship for Engineers, and Intrapreneurship and Innovation all aim at providing students with the most current, relevant and practical skills to enhance their career development.

“A big part of what we want to provide students with is confidence in themselves when they’re called upon to do things that, as an engineer, they haven’t typically been asked to do,” says Readey. “As engineers progress in their careers, they tend to do less and less actual hands-on engineering work and more leading and communicating on behalf of a team. They’re going to need those skill sets.”

Readey teaches a series of courses that are based on his extensive experience in technology development, new venture creation and engineering management. The first course, Product Development and Design, takes students through the process of identifying and creating new products and services that are in demand with both consumer and industrial customers.

Specific areas covered include:

  • Ideation: thinking through ideas and coming up with a concept that has commercial value
  • Field research: meeting with potential customers and finding out if the idea would provide a viable solution
  • Prototyping: the hands-on process of product creation and building the prototype
  • Selling the idea: students stage a simulated trade show event where they pitch their product to fellow students playing the role of trade show attendees

“It’s a really enlightening experience,” Readey says. “There’s usually a bit of anxiety at first when students find out that they’ll need to get outside of that engineering bubble and talk with non-engineers about their idea in a more generalized way. So there’s some stress there. But once they do it and keep doing it they realize that it’s not as complicated as they initially thought and they get over that anxiety barrier.”

The trade show event at the end of the course, too, is an impactful experience for students. “It’s a ton of fun, but it’s also the exact type of thing they’d be doing in the real world after creating a new product,” Readey says. “They have their prototype right there and are pitching it to attendees stopping by their booth.”

The Entrepreneurship for Engineers course takes students learning how to become an engineering manager to the next level as they explore the process of new venture creation as it relates to launching a technology-based startup. They start by determining what type of problem they are looking to solve with their new venture. Often, Readey says, students come into the course with the idea first formulated in the previous course and go through the process of turning it into a business.

A key point in the course involves students creating a 15-slide investor pitch presentation, which they present as a way to gain funding necessary to get the new venture off the ground.

“I always walk away from that course so impressed with how well students do at putting that presentation together,” Readey says. “Now they can stand in front of an executive team and sell an idea they’ve developed in a really effective way.”

In Intrapreneurship and Innovation, students embark on a similar experience as the previous course, except this time, the approach is that they are working within an organization and are developing an idea specifically for that company. Students must identify an advocate within the organization, which typically is their boss; throughout the course, they engage in discussions with various non-engineering departments such as finance and marketing.

Ultimately, they create a presentation for the company’s executive team pitching the idea as a new product line.

“This gets them out of their engineering cubicle and into collaborations with all of these different departments,” Readey says. “Again, this is exactly the kind of thing they will find themselves doing in the real world as they assume more responsibilities. And what’s really cool is that when their ideas get picked up by the company in one form or another, they’re the ones who get promoted to project lead since it was their idea.”

Powerful Success Stories

Readey points to some powerful success stories as evidence of what students can accomplish going through these courses and CU Boulder’s EMP experience as a whole.

3 small plants on outstretched handsOne student who came in with an aerospace engineering background developed a protein-dense food source for space travel to Mars. She repurposed the presentation she had created for the course, specifically for a pitch to NASA, which was interested in the idea. Ultimately, she earned a $150,000 grant from NASA to develop the product.

Another student launched her own LLC creating fashionable footwear using sustainable, plant-based materials and foregoing the use of any plastics. This venture was of particular interest to Readey, who has a passion for sustainable technology solutions.

“The great thing about these courses, and the entire mission of the Engineering Management Program, is that it equips students with the communication and presentation skills that are critical to their success as they move up into leadership roles,” Readey says. “Having confidence and really being able to sell yourself and sell your idea to customers, non-engineers, executives and investors will really set them apart.”

How to Become an Engineering Manager: The CU Boulder Way

CU Boulder’s Engineering Management Program is delivered through the University’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, which was founded in 1893 and is recognized across the country among the top academic destinations for aspiring engineers and technical professionals.

At the heart of CU Boulder’s EMP offerings are options designed to meet the needs of any professional focused on developing and improving their management, leadership and technical skills. Program students can tailor their education to align with their own personal and career goals, whether that’s pursuing an ME in Engineering Management, a specialized dual degree option, a graduate-level certificate, or standalone courses.

Regardless of which program is the best fit for you, at CU Boulder you will benefit from flexible and convenient course delivery options; a core faculty comprised of accomplished experts with decades of experience as leaders at the highest levels of business and industry; and a curriculum that is constantly evolving to reflect the most current trends in technology leadership.

For example, in the Fall 2019 term, students will have four new course options from which to choose, including Engineering, Product Liability and the Litigation Process; Principles and Practices of the Sustainable Enterprise; Advanced Project, Program, and Portfolio Management; and Global Products in Aerospace.

How Do You Know if the CU Boulder EMP Is Right for You?

All engineers considering an advanced degree usually have some common questions when it comes to the process and what is required. Some of these questions include:

  • Can I complete my coursework on a schedule that works for me?
  • Will I have to sacrifice my current position to complete the program?
  • Will I be required to attend classes on-site or are online courses available?
  • Who are the professors and will I get individualized attention and mentorship?
  • How long will the program take to complete?
  • Will the program help me achieve my professional goals?

So if you’re thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in engineering management, a logical first step is thinking through these questions as they relate to your specific circumstances and to the programs you may be considering.

Can I Complete My Coursework on a Schedule That Works For Me?

If you’re a working engineer or technical professional, the last thing you can afford to do is attend classes in the middle of the day when you’re supposed to be working and fulfilling other daily responsibilities. Ensuring that any advanced degree program you consider is flexible enough to allow you to complete coursework on a schedule that fits your needs is essential.

The good news is that many engineering management degree programs, including CU Boulder’s, are designed with working professionals in mind. So you’ll be able to complete coursework and attend classes when it’s convenient for you.

Will I Have to Sacrifice My Current Position to Complete the Program?

We know this is a big one for working professionals who have families and financial responsibilities. Having to sacrifice your current position in order to earn your degree in engineering management simply isn’t an option.

As with the previous question, there’s good news here. There are top-notch engineering management programs designed to meet the needs of professionals working in the field, delivered in a way that does not require them to put their current career on hold. An added bonus is that students, such as those in CU Boulder’s EMP, are able to take things they learn in their coursework and apply them on the job the very next day.

Will I Be Required to Attend Classes On-Site, or Are Online Courses Available?

Most graduate-level programs in this discipline do include engineering management online courses, and some programs can be completed entirely online. Again, if you are required to attend some classes on-site you can typically fulfill that requirement in a way that works with your schedule and around your current position.

Keep in mind that studying online does not mean going it alone. At CU Boulder, when you participate in an online course, you’ll have the opportunity to fully engage with fellow students and faculty through the Zoom web conferencing tool, which works like Skype. Even when you are not on campus, you are still in the classroom — a virtual one.

Who Are the Professors and Will I Get Individualized Attention and Mentorship?

The professors who guide your learning experience should be a key consideration when determining which program is the right one for you. This is a question that CU Boulder welcomes any time it comes up — the EMP faculty is as accomplished, supportive and engaging as you’ll find in any program anywhere in the country.

The professors you’ll study with go beyond theoretical concepts and bring extensive experience and actual, real-world case studies involving situations and challenges that you will very likely confront as an engineering manager.

One CU Boulder EMP instructor spent nearly two decades as a mechanical engineer at a Fortune 500 company, owns a successful leadership coaching and consulting practice and is an expert in the area of leading under stressful situations. Another has spent 34 years supporting critical national security space missions, held leadership positions with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and is a trustee for the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. And another was a career Army officer, served as Operations Officer for a tank battalion during Operation Desert Storm and taught National Security Policy and Space Operations at the US Army Command and General Staff College.

In addition to exceptional real-world experience bridging their engineering and technical backgrounds with leadership and management, EMP faculty are passionate about teaching and mentoring their students as a way of empowering them to achieve their academic and professional goals.

How Long Will the Program Take to Complete?

Given the flexibility and scheduling options when it comes to completing coursework, the amount of time it takes to earn a degree in engineering management can vary from student to student and will depend upon whether you are a full- or part-time student. Most students take classes part-time in conjunction with working, and it typically takes them three to five years to complete their coursework, but they have up to six years to complete if necessary.

Often, the program’s duration comes down to you and determining the pace at which you will finish all the required courses. For students who do decide to attend a masters in engineering management program full time, it can take as little as a few years.

Will the Program Help Me Achieve My Professional Goals?

If you are determined to invest the time and effort into earning an advanced degree to create new professional opportunities, you want to be sure you’ve found a program that’s proven and respected by employers.

Every year, the answer to this question for those who earn their degree in engineering management through the CU Boulder EMP is a resounding, “Yes.” In place for more than 30 years, CU Boulder’s EMP offerings provide the relevant curriculum, convenient course delivery models and exceptional instruction from professors who have worked at the highest levels of leadership in business and industry.

Making a Choice for Your Future

If you’re ready to gain the kind of preparation it will take to advance your career and climb the ranks as a successful engineering manager, your timing couldn’t be better. The future job outlook for engineering managers is positive.

In fact, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics the employment of engineering managers is expected to grow two percent over the next decade. And the need for engineering managers in the engineering services industry, such as with consulting firms, is projected to grow six percent over the next decade.

Honing your engineering, management and leadership skills can be a winning combination for your career. If you would like to learn more about CU Boulder’s EMP offerings, you can speak with an advisor or request more information. Visit the CU Boulder EMP website or contact Kendra Thibeault, Admissions, Graduate and Undergraduate Advisor at: or call 303-492-0954.