Jodsaas Center leadership development program prepares graduates for the business life

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Jodsaas Center leadership development program prepares graduates for the business life

There's no doubt that folks who graduate with engineering degrees from the University of North Dakota are technically superb.

That's why most of our graduates are getting good jobs right out of school, many even before they graduate.

But, says College of Engineering and Mines (CEM) faculty member Brian Tande, there's a lot more to an engineering career than technical expertise. So he launched an effort last year to help students learn the ropes of business and entrepreneurship through a series of courses. The new Engineering Leadership Development Program launched this fall with 16 students.

Tande, a chemical engineer, is director of the CEM Jodsaas Center for Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship. Dedicated during Homecoming 2008, the center was made possible by a generous donation to the College from 1962 UND electrical engineering alumnus Larry Jodsaas. It was designed and guided by his vision to enhance the student experience by providing engineering students opportunities to develop skills beyond the traditional engineering curriculum.

"The reason we started this program was the realization that a lot of engineering alums go out into some technical role, doing engineering jobs for three to five years, then they move into a management position," Tande said. "That's a typical career path for many engineers. So not long after they graduate, they're in a position where they're managing other people and involved with the business side of their company."

Some engineers choose a completely different career path: they go out right away and start their own company. And some go into completely different roles: Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, was an engineer; another astronaut, Karen Nyberg, currently wrapping up a six-month stint on the International Space Station, holds a mechanical engineering degree from UND.

In addition to his academic career at UND, Tande is an entrepreneur himself, running a small specialty coatings company.

"Many of the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they learned as an engineer are put to use in a lot of different fields of business," Tande said. "Our job in the Jodsaas Center, especially with this leadership development program, is to take our traditional, highly technical education and supplement it with different aspects of business, leadership and entrepreneurship. This is to give students a head start on the skills they're going to need further down the road in their career. That's basically the mission of the Jodsaas Center."

Among the features of the leadership development program is a seminar series.

"Every semester we bring three or four alums from industry back to campus to give a seminar, telling the story of how they got from being a new graduate to where they are today," Tande said. "We've found that it's not hard to get people here to participate in these seminars. UND is blessed with successful alums who are eager to share their experiences and interact with students. So far, everyone who's participated in our seminar series has enjoyed great discussions with students, who are eager to hear their perspectives. With this program, we're going to be requiring a lot more alums to participate."

To start with, the leadership program will be a College of Engineering-level certificate, which means that it won't show up on a student's transcript.

"We will be working to get approvals from the University and from the State Board of Higher Education to make this a university-level certificate program, which means that it'll be part of a student's official academic record," Tande said.

Tande emphasizes that the program is in addition to the technical and scientific education that UND engineers receive.

"Engineers already are taking a lot of credits," he said. "We looked for ways to add leadership and business credits into existing spaces for electives."

Each student also will be paired with a mentor who works in the same discipline ? the same industry that the student is interested in.

"For example, I have a chemical engineering student in the program who wants to work in the pharmaceutical industry," Tande said. "I'm in the process of identifying UND alums who are working in that industry. That's kind of a bridge for the student to learn more about that industry."

The program is designed to be flexible; a student can customize their experience based on their own interests.

"When I was an engineering student no one talked about business, entrepreneurship or leadership skills," Tande said. "Things have definitely changed. The engineering education community has recognized that engineers need more than technical skills."

Right now, this is a pilot program.

"Our long term goal is that every student who graduates from the UND College of Engineering and Mines goes through a program like this," Tande said.

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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