on campus

A Healthy Dose of Technology

by Alice Daniels

When Jay Goldberg started his engineering career 20 years ago, he learned by trial and error that product development was not just about creating the perfect design. Indeed, there were myriad considerations—clinical trials, cost effectiveness, FDA regulations—that no one had ever told him about during his undergraduate education.

Illustration by Lung-I LoIf Goldberg were starting out today, he might have bypassed the school of hard knocks for an easier entree into managing healthcare technology: a one-of-a-kind master's degree program—jointly offered by Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin—that prepares engineers to oversee technology in a clinical, industrial, or consultant-type setting. Instead, Goldberg directs it.

“Historically, new engineers have had a narrow perspective of a company,” he says. “We want our students to have enough understanding of business and management so that they can effectively interact with all areas of the company and speak the same language.”

New engineering graduates find the Healthcare Technologies Management Program—the first master's degree to combine the disciplines of technology, business, and healthcare—appealing because it gives them a head start on their careers. “If they're familiar with the economic and regulatory environments of healthcare delivery, they will know more than their colleagues and can hit the ground running,” Goldberg says. Requirements for the degree include six core healthcare technology courses and five business courses, which are taught as part of the MBA program at Marquette.

Coming from a broad undergraduate education in biomedical engineering, Heather Posnanski, 22, chose the program because she wanted to more clearly define her career interests. “I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare, but I didn't know if that would be in an industrial or clinical setting,” she says. “Here, I've been exposed to so many more aspects of the industry than if I'd gone straight into a job after undergraduate school.”

The program also draws students who have worked in industry or management but realize they need more formal business training to move up the company ladder. Bill Farley, a former naval officer who works in supplier quality for GE Medical Systems, says the program is helping him to make the transition from military management to business management. “The business classes are bringing me up to speed on terminology, accounting, how business managers make decisions, and what type of information they have available to them,” says 31-year-old Farley. “But a bigger aspect is the industry as a whole. Understanding government regulations behind design and technology is pretty important to business.”

Apart from regulatory requirements, students also study such topics as marketing and financial management, product development, and technology assessment. Independent study projects, designed by the students to tie in with their career goals, round out the program. One student who is interested in technology assessment is currently evaluating a new technology that monitors whether a patient is in shock. Students work with both faculty and industrial or clinical advisors and, in a sense, serve as consultants to their sponsors.

Supported by a grant from the Whitaker Foundation, the program currently has 14 students. Joelle Neider, one of two recent graduates, says the program “opened up a whole new avenue of job opportunities for me that were not strictly engineering or technical.” For her independent study, Neider researched regulations for medical devices and developed a matrix of requirements that GE Medical had to meet for marketing a product in other countries. As a result, GE offered her a job as a regulatory affairs specialist. “The regulatory affairs job wouldn't have happened if I hadn't completed this program,” she says.

Goldberg hopes the program will reach a wider audience in the near future. There are plans to make the entire program available online within the next few years. Two courses already online have been well received by the students, especially the one who brought his laptop to France on a business trip and in between meetings, and (let us hope) croissants, was able to download his class assignment.

Alice Daniels is a freelance writer living in Fresno, CA.


On Campus

A World-Class Design Course

by Barbara Mathias-Riegel

Why would anyone want to teach around the clock? To keep up with the world, of course. Debasish Dutta, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, has created a course called “Global Product Realization,” which involves simultaneously teaching students across three continents, in time zones six and 14 hours apart from Michigan's Eastern Standard Time. “Whether you like it or not, globalization is here to stay,” says Dutta, who spent nearly two years planning the course. “Major companies are all global and many projects are being done in three different locations.”

Dutta relied on the technological infrastructure of video conferencing, e-mails, faxes, Web tools like E-Viz and Placeware, and a good alarm clock set to international times to contact his two colleagues—Imre Horvath, at the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands, and Jongwon Kim at Seoul National University, South Korea. The three instructors prepared case studies from their local industries, including Steelcase Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Philips Electronics, and Samsung. They also arranged for experts in their countries to speak on product development-related topics, such as law, the environment, and business.

“In this age of both globalization and diversity it's extremely important for the students to understand how to work across international boundaries and how to value different styles that people have. There is nothing like actually experiencing it to understand it,” says Stephen Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of the college of engineering at University of Michigan.

Illustration by Lung-I LoLast September, graduate students in Ann Arbor gathered twice a week for the GPR class at 8 a.m., while in Delft it was 2 p.m., and in Seoul, it was 10 p.m. Often the Korean students worked at home on the Internet, and returned to campus for special lectures and video conferencing.

On the first day of the course, Dutta didn't waste any time. After introducing the students to each other via e-mail, he named eight teams, made up of two students from each country. Their assignment? Design a coffee maker for the global market, and do it as a team. During the last week of class, all of the students met for the first time in Ann Arbor for presentations and a public exhibition.

That face-to-face meeting was full of anticipation. As they left their virtual worlds behind, many wondered what their teammates were really like, and how well they would work together for the presentations. As Sybren vanWayenburg, an industrial design graduate from Delft, observed: “There are a lot of subtleties that make it easier to meet and work in person, for instance, the gestures and eye contact. When you're video conferencing you're either looking at the screen or at the camera, but not both. But you get used to it, and I'm sure that in our careers we'll get used to it.”
In the future, Dutta would like to arrange for the students to meet on the first day of class and then meet again at the end of the project. That would take funding, he says, but the results would be a more effective performance in a distributed team.

Surprisingly, there were few glitches and most of them were minor. At one point, Ann Arbor lost Korea online for just 15 minutes. Then there was the shakier time during a design review when the video conference “all of a sudden went dead for Delft,” but was regained quickly. As for language, all the students spoke English, though some were more comfortable with it than others.

“The students appreciated what we are trying to do,” says Dutta. “They understood that they were the guinea pigs, but they also understood the importance of it, so they were very forgiving.” He adds that in a survey taken at the end of the semester, 97 percent of the students said they would recommend this course to a friend.

Will other engineering courses follow suit with global teaching? “Not all, but certain courses are suitable, design courses certainly,” says dean Stephen Director. “This took a tremendous amount of effort...and the technology is still young. But it will spread and each time we do it, it will take less effort to accomplish.”

Barbara Mathias-Riegel is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.