University-Industry Engagement Week

Stevens Institute helps upskill corporate employees with grad degrees, certificates

By David Schwartz
Published: May 23rd, 2023

A detailed article on the Stevens Institute of Technology’s corporate upskilling program appears in the May issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

The 13 employees from Northrop Grumman’s Aeronautics Engineering segment in Rancho Bernardo, CA, who received certificates in February recognizing their completion of the Stevens Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering degree program were just the latest in a long line of cohorts to graduate from Stevens Institute of Technology’s School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) corporate education program. Stevens’ SSE and Northrop Grumman (NGC) have been partnering since 2006, with 21 cohorts totaling 387 participants across eight locations throughout the U.S. SSE also collaborates with other NGC segments such as Mission Systems and Space Systems, as well as with several other corporate clients.

“We offer about 35 to 40 courses for corporations each academic year,” notes Carol Ruiz, director of online and corporate engagement for SSE. “The whole impetus for our program [came from] our faculty members at that time,” says Ruiz, who notes that the program was launched in 2000, and the school established in 2007. “Many of them had industry experience — a number in systems engineering — and realized there was a big need in corporations because at the time the field was evolving.” That evolution, she adds, has included areas such as engineering management and space systems engineering.

The SSE corporate education program, she continues, “aligns with our mission,” which is to optimize the design, creation, and operation of complex systems and organizations. “The way we see it, it’s true even more so now; there are systems everywhere — in every industry,” Ruiz observes. “As things continually evolve and become more complex, we’re finding the organizations we partner with really want to upskill their employees, enhance their abilities, and make sure they’re not just doing, but have a better understanding of what systems engineering is really about. As educators, we offer the master’s or graduate certificates. As partners, a lot of communication goes on, so we understand what they want to do, and we identify instructors who’ve had experience in that field. When they teach the group from that company, they [strive to] meet the needs of that cohort; we really evolve as the companies evolve.”

And how do they find out what a company needs? “In general, we have certain clients, say, in a [specific] business segment,” says Ruiz. “If we’ve not [partnered with them] before, we meet with the point of contact — it could be learning & development, it could be engineering — and discuss what they’re seeking. The big thing being stressed today is having their employees do systems thinking and systems integration, to see how the whole thing comes together.”

In the SSE/NGC partnership, corporate cohorts consist of 12 to 25 NGC employees. The graduate courses leading to the master’s degree total 10 semesters, while four are needed for the certificate courses. “These can be completed in a year if you take four consecutive semesters, while the master’s really takes 10 semesters, or a little over three years,” she explains, adding that funding is usually through company tuition reimbursement programs.

These graduate courses are taught by SSE professors with both industry and academic experience; they are designed so that the cohort’s experience facilitates team building and an expansion of the employees’ network within the company.

“Before COVID we used to do the courses on site; if it was Grumman, they had eight different locations,” Ruiz shares. “Our instructor would go to those locations and conduct classes with the employees there.” That all changed with the pandemic — permanently. “Interaction with professors is now virtual after COVID,” says Ruiz, who adds that the program has evolved — often positively.

“One thing that [the shift to remote] enhances is that we have people [in the cohorts] in other locations of the company,” she points out. “We may have people from Chicago, L.A., and Boston in the same cohort. This enhances the group learning about what happens in other areas of the company, and it really does build this internal network and a better understanding of the company.”

Different segments of Northrup Grumman move through these courses together, so that “a bond is created,” Ruiz notes. What’s more, she adds, that bond extends to the university. “Since our instructors teach this live, there’s a personal aspect; we try to make the corporate students feel as if they [really are our] students, because they are part of the Stevens community.”

Click here to continue reading this article with a subscription to University-Industry Engagement Advisor. Already a subscriber? Click here to log in.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week