As an undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering, Daniel Broe knew that he would eventually have to study for an advanced degree if he was going to differentiate himself from all of the other engineers graduating around the same time—and progress into a leadership position.
“There were 400 other engineers graduating that year,” says Broe. “There would be another 400 the following year, and that was just from my school. So I knew I needed to do something else if I was going to stand out from the crowd.”
Although he hadn’t planned it at the time, within a year of graduating and landing his first job in an engineering maintenance and reliability role at an aluminum manufacturing plant in Oswego, New York, he would be studying for a master’s of engineering management online degree at CU Boulder—a move that would ultimately take him to his current role as a VA/VE engineering (value analysis/value engineering) professional.
Broe’s employer offered an educational assistance program to its employees. This financial aid was a key influencer in his decision to return to the classroom so soon after graduating from his undergrad program.
“I didn't really intend to start my continued education right away,” says Broe. “It was only a year after I graduated. But, I told myself that I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, and if my employer is going to help pay for it, it makes sense to do it now before I have a family and all the extra-curricular things that go with that.”
Before selecting the Master of Engineering in Engineering Management Program (EMP) at CU Boulder, Broe considered several different options.
“I knew that I wanted to get some business experience,” says Broe. “When you look at leaders within your company, a lot of time they have an advanced degree in business administration. Because of this, I did actually consider a number of MBA programs around the country.”
Broe eventually decided on joining an engineering management program instead of an MBA because he wanted to develop his technical skills alongside his business leadership acumen.
“I wanted to be the type of leader who leads people with technical minds,” says Broe. “Engineers tend to focus on specific problems and solutions and don’t always see the big picture and think about the users. I've always seen myself as a people person first and then an engineer. I saw there was a leadership gap and a big opportunity in the engineering space for engineering leaders and engineering managers who could look beyond the specific problems they were trying to solve.”
Engineering Management Online Degree
Working full-time, Broe was drawn to the availability of online degree programs offered by several universities.
“I knew I wanted an online program,” says Broe. “I wanted the flexibility to take night courses from home or on the road if I was traveling for work.”
According to Broe, CU Boulder’s experience in delivering online learning was a major plus.
“The engineering management Program at CU Boulder had been around for much longer when compared to the other online offerings,” says Broe. “They took the initiative to create the online course very early. So I thought to myself that this is a Program that will probably have a lot of the wrinkles ironed out of it.”
Broe describes the process he used to select the engineering management Program at CU Boulder as typical of an engineer.
“I wanted to get the most bang for my buck, so I put together a spreadsheet with the top five schools I was looking at,” says Broe. “As such a well-known engineering school, CU Boulder jumped right up my list. The Program also had the Lockheed Martin name attached to it, and that made it very attractive. It was also at an excellent price point. It just seemed like a winner and kind of sold itself.”
According to Broe, the cost of the CU Boulder engineering management online Program was particularly important because the educational assistance program offered by his employer was capped at around $5,000 per year, and he didn't want to have to pay too much out of pocket himself. The financial cap meant that he would have to take his time to complete the Program. Taking two classes every semester, Broe graduated from the Program after five years, during which time he only had to pay for a couple of classes himself.
Broe believes his in-depth research paid dividends.
“I never questioned my decision ever because I never had any problems with the online distribution of the course material or the quality of the Program,” says Broe. “I was always satisfied. I never had any problems communicating with my professors or guidance counselors. I think that is one definite selling point of the Program. You don't even have to consider those kinds of things. You can just focus on the education piece of it.”
Although Broe took the Program online, he never felt isolated from the other students who attended classes on CU Boulder’s campus.
“Being a graduate degree, the class sizes were relatively small," says Broe. "So it felt like there was a real community within the EMP. Course after course you recognized more faces and got to know the different people and their personalities. Through the project work, you got a good feeling from interacting with the professors and all the other students.”
As one of the youngest students in the Program, Broe wasn’t in a hurry to graduate and found the pace of study suited his lifestyle.
“I had to dedicate maybe an hour or two every night to the work and then maybe a few more hours on a Sunday,” says Broe. “My wife, who was my fiancée at the time, was pursuing her nurse practitioner master’s degree and her license at the same time, so we shared a lot of those same work/life balance struggles and supported each other through it.”
Despite being a lot younger than many of his peers, Broe never felt out of his depth. In fact, his classmates proved to be an additional learning opportunity.
“I was one of the youngest students in all my classes,” says Broe. “A lot of people had very different life experiences than me. They had families and children and much more career experience, so I tried to be a sponge and learn as much from them as I could. However, I never felt that my opinion was not respected. The faculty definitely made that known.”
Two years into the Program, Broe changed jobs.
“My current employer, Eaton, approached me with an opportunity to differentiate my engineering experience and take on more of a design engineer role,” says Broe. “I thought that design experience would be a good cornerstone for my engineering career and it would be advantageous to get it while I was still relatively early in my career.”
The fact that Eaton also offered an education assistance program—meaning that Broe could continue with his education—was a significant catalyst in Broe’s decision to change jobs.
“I was probably 50-75% through the curriculum,” says Broe. “I didn’t want to have a break at all. I wanted to keep going until I graduated, so I took the opportunity and continued with the Program. I've been with Eaton now for four years.”
Eaton works within a harsh and hazardous engineering environment.
“A lot of our products are sold to oil refineries and drilling companies,” says Broe. “The products that I specifically work on are LED lighting products. As the world turns to more efficient lighting solutions, LED is at the forefront of that.”
Broe works in Eaton’s cost-out engineering group as a value analysis/ value engineering (VA/VE) engineer.
“We are basically looking at our existing products and seeing how we can make them more efficient and add value for our customers,” says Broe. “But we’re also looking at reducing costs, whether that be through design work or through resourcing to more competitive vendors. It's a lot of project work. So we have project cadence, proposal, design, testing, R&D, and then launching a product and bringing it to market.”
Engineering Project Management and Leadership
In his current role as a VA/VE engineer at Eaton, Broe constantly refers back to the lessons he learned during the project management course in the engineering management Program.
“Because we work cross-functionally, you have to interact with so many different people,” says Broe. “There are your colleagues in engineering, and then there's the supply chain and marketing and sales. We're not in silos. So we need to break down those barriers.”
Broe also found the leadership classes in the EMP to be very relevant to his work.
“There were two leadership courses in the Program,” says Broe. “The first was leading one's self. That was interesting because there's a lot of information about meditation and self-internalization. It was really about knowing who you are before taking the next step and learning about other people. We all have internal strife, and sometimes as engineers and technically minded people, we don't always think about this."
The second leadership course was all about leading others.
“Now that you have a good understanding of how to self-regulate, you take that and apply it to help others to be better versions of themselves,” says Broe. “Although I don't have anyone who directly reports to me at work, a big part of my job is trying to garner influence and work with people to achieve common goals. So you still need those kinds of interpersonal and leadership skills.”
Broe believes his professors did a great job of explaining the difference between management and leadership.
“I know the Program is called ‘engineering management,’ but really, I think the professors did a great job of drilling into us that you are a leader, not a manager,” says Broe. “You want to guide your employees and not just be the long arm of the law.”
A Typical Day in VA/VE Engineering
Broe’s working day starts early.
“We're a global company,” says Broe. “Eaton has manufacturing and R&D locations all over the world, so I typically start at 7 a.m. with meetings with team members in China or India. Then, the morning is typically going through project meetings, getting updates on all the different projects I work on. Then, later in the morning, there's usually a time where I can look at email and start looking at my action items for the day.”
Broe’s office has an R&D lab attached to it.
“When I am in the office, I'm usually in our lab working with our test technicians to prepare our test prototypes certification testing samples,” says Broe. “It's not a bad cadence. I kind of know what to expect every day.”
As part of his responsibilities in VA/VE engineering, Broe particularly enjoys working with his colleagues in manufacturing.
“I do get to interact with our manufacturing location in Syracuse, which is nice,” says Broe. “I get to talk with a lot of people who are perhaps not engineers. They are the blue-collar workers who are dedicating their lives to something that I played a piece in designing. That’s pretty cool. They offer so many insights into how to do things better, and I take that feedback back into the office as well. So I do enjoy those opportunities.”
Engineering Future Opportunities
Broe wasn’t motivated by the immediate opportunities the engineering management degree would afford him and is conscious that he is still at a relatively early stage of his career.
"In engineering, you put your time in and move up the career ladder, but that happens gradually," says Broe. "My mindset was, whether I get an immediate advancement or not through this degree Program, it is something I will always have; it cannot be taken away from me.”
While Broe has yet to advance into a management position, he believes his engineering management degree has helped him become a more valuable employee.
“It has helped me to think about problems more holistically,” says Brow. “This helps me put our customers and our stakeholders at the center of the problem, and that’s incredibly powerful.”
Broe’s advice to any peers considering following his path and studying for an engineering management degree is clear.
“If you have the time to do it, then you should almost certainly do it,” says Broe. “Even if you don't have the time, you should still consider the EMP. This is a degree Program for people who want not only to help themselves but help others in the engineering field.”
If you would like to learn more about CU Boulder’s EMP offerings, you can speak with an advisor or request more information. Just visit the CU Boulder EMP website or contact: Kendra.Thibeault@colorado.edu or call 303.492.0954.