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Master’s in Engineering Management (MEM/MSEM) vs. MBA

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In many cases, an individual within the field of engineering will develop a desire to take on a managerial role during the facilitation and completion of projects. And here, the specific engineer generally has three paths of additional education he or she can pursue to obtain the qualifications necessary to become a project manager: a master of engineering management (MEM) or MSEM (master of science in engineering management) degree, or a master of business administration with a focus on engineering, or a dual degree, which will be examined more in-depth below. Consider reading through this overview, as well as the side-by-side comparison found below, if you are interested in a management-oriented engineering master’s degree.

Similarities, Differences and Overlap

Perhaps the greatest similarity between these programs is that they all allow the degree seeker to focus on business and management, especially as it relates to the field of engineering. In general, an MEM and an MBA degree program will have courses on finance, management, leadership, and human resources, and specifically how they can be applied to managing engineering teams, and executing engineering projects. There will certainly be a significant amount of overlap in curriculum in both of these fields of study.

But while there are apparent similarities, there also exist a number of differences that are extremely important to recognize. To begin, students may find that a master of engineering management (MEM) degree is more highly focused on the field of engineering itself, as well as the task of project management. Some MBA programs do allow students to specialize in project management, although this is not a required path of study. Indeed, students pursuing an MEM or MSEM degree will learn basic business and management fundamentals, but these programs tend to emphasize technology strategy, project and operations management, and product innovation and management more heavily. So the MEM or MSEM degree will generally prepare the student for a management position specifically in technology or engineering.

In contrast, while an MBA can be tailored to focus highly on engineering topics, it also generally offers a multi-industry curriculum, allowing the student to develop a wider knowledge of different fields. This is beneficial for a student interested in pursuing an executive career in any industry, but will not offer as much of an engineering project, product, and team focus as a master of engineering management would. However, that being said, an MBA-seeker may otherwise develop a level of mastery of general management and business fundamentals not attained by a student pursuing an MEM degree.

Finally, aspiring engineering managers will generally be best served by pursuing an undergraduate degree in engineering before selecting one of the these management tracks. Without an undergraduate engineering degree, prospective managers may find themselves unqualified to lead certain engineering projects without additional education. Indeed, this is the case for jobs wherein the prerequisites include earning a Professional Engineering license, which can only be held by those with a four-year degree in engineering and several years of engineering work experience.

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MEM vs. Engineering MBA: Side-by-Side Comparison

Below is a side-by-side comparison of three different programs: master’s in engineering management, master’s in business administration (MBA) with a focus on engineering, and dual MBA/master’s in engineering. Any student interested in pursuing a management career in an engineering or technology-related field should consider the information within before making a final decision.

Master of Engineering Management (MEM/MSEM) MBA (with a focus on engineering) Dual MBA-MSE/MEM
How do the fields define themselves? A master’s in engineering management is focused on management as it relates to engineering projects; as such, it prepares a student to take on a managerial/executive role in an operation within an engineering or technology-focused organization. An MBA with a focus on engineering is a business-specific degree with engineering electives; as such, the curriculum may be more broadly focused on business in general and provide the student with a greater scope of knowledge across a variety of industries.

Ultimately, a dual master’s in engineering or engineering management/MBA will combine the benefits of both programs, although it will certainly take more time to complete both in conjunction.

What department is the program typically part of in the institution? The master’s in engineering management is most often part of the engineering school. In most cases, the MBA program will be part of the business school, although elective classes will likely be taken in the engineering school as well.

Since these are considered separate degrees, a dual MBA/MEM or MBA/MSE will be part of both the engineering and the business schools collectively.

What bodies of knowledge will the student focus on in pursuit of this degree? In pursuit of this degree, the student will focus on engineering, as well as applicable management topics, including finance, human resources and management, law, and a number of technology-related subjects. If the student pursues an additional specialty, he or she will likely take a number of elective courses on a specific engineering topic. While students in this program will take elective courses related to engineering, they will have a greater focus on business classes, including business administration, accounting, marketing, corporate strategy and organizational behavior, and project development as it relates to technology operations. Of course, this will also depend on the engineering specialization that the student pursues; for example, a student may specialize in industrial and systems engineering, or in mechanical engineering, each of which will have different areas of focus.

A student obtaining these degrees together will develop a comprehensive knowledge of engineering and management subjects; as well as business administration topics and how the two can be applied to one another at an executive level. Here, students will likely focus on a variety of different subject areas, depending on the specifics of the engineering master’s degree pursued. For example, a student pursuing a dual MBA/master’s in electrical engineering will study electronics and electromagnetism, while a student pursuing a dual MBA/master’s in engineering management will have a heavier focus on leadership and facilitation of engineering and technology-related projects.

Is project management part of this specific curriculum? Most MEM degrees retain a focus on project management. Although MBA students have the option to take courses on project management, this is not always a specific part of the curriculum.

While focusing on the MEM degree, the student will likely cover courses in project management.

What specializations are available in pursuit of this degree? While students may not be able to formally specialize within many programs, a number of schools will allow MEM students to take elective courses in various engineering discipline, allowing them to focus their development of knowledge in one area. A student pursuing an MBA may focus on a number of specializations, from supply-chain management, human resources, IT, non-profit, industry/operations, marketing, entrepreneurship, or finance.

In pursuit of the MEM the student may take various electives that focus on a specific engineering discipline, although this may not serve as a traditional certification. Furthermore, the various specialties listed in the column to the left are available to MBA students.

What established occupations will students be prepared for after receiving this degree? A MEM degree will help prepare a student to work in a management-level role in an engineering or technology operation. In contrast, an MBA will allow a student to obtain executive-level employment, which may span across a variety of industries.

A dual MBA/MEM degree will fully prepare a student to work in an executive or management level in a multitude of industries. A dual MBA/MSE combines general management with depth in a particular engineering specialization, preparing the graduate especially well to lead teams and projects in that area.

In what industries will this student be able to work obtain receiving this degree? For the most part, an MEM degree will be most useful in the engineering and technology industries. While an MBA focusing on engineering will be relevant in the engineering industry, it may allow the holder to expand beyond that and work in other fields, as well.

An individual who possesses a dual MBA/MEM degree is uniquely situated as a business specialist with expertise in engineering; in light of this, he or she may likely be able to work in a wide array of fields.

Are there any emerging occupations that the student will be prepared for after school? Because of the ever-changing nature of technology and technology companies, new roles are constantly emerging that may be best filled by those who have obtained MEM degrees. An MBA degree will allow the holder to obtain a management position; as such, the individually will be suited to work in any emerging positions at the executive level.

This combined degree will help an individual remain prepared to fill any emerging positions at the executive or managerial level in either engineering/technology operations or other fields altogether.

How much time should students expect to spend pursuing a degree? Although this varies based on the institution, students may be able to obtain an MEM degree online in as few as 10 months. In general, an online MBA will take two full years of study to complete, although this depends on the pace of the individual and the flexibility of the schedule.

Because the student will be obtaining two degrees concurrently, a dual MBA/MEM or MBA/MSE degree online will likely take at least three years to complete. In this case, the student will effectively earn two master’s degrees approximately one year faster than they would otherwise be able to.

Name some schools that offer online degrees in these fields. The following is a list of eight schools that offer online MEM or MSEM degree programs:

  1. Florida International University
  2. Iowa State University
  3. Colorado State University
  4. Johns Hopkins University
  5. Duke University
  6. Purdue University
  7. Arizona State University
  8. Penn State World Campus
The following is a list of four schools that offer online MBA programs with a focus on engineering:

  1. Lehigh University (MBA with a specialization in manufacturing systems, chemical, or mechanical engineering)
  2. Norwich University (MBA with a concentration in project management or construction management)
  3. Northcentral University (MBA with a specialization in management of engineering and technology)
  4. Capella University (MBA with a specialization in project management)
The following is a list of five schools that offer online dual MEM/MBA or MSE/MBA degree programs:

  1. Lawrence Technological University (dual MBA/master’s degree in engineering management)
  2. University of Florida (dual MBA/master’s degree in outreach engineering management – occasional attendance required, making this a hybrid program)
  3. University of Michigan, Dearborn (dual MBA/master’s in industrial & systems engineering)
  4. Purdue University (dual MBA/MSE)
  5. Arizona State University (dual MBA/master of electrical engineering or dual MBA/master’s in industrial engineering)
Bottom line of each program. A MEM degree is the perfect choice for an engineer who wishes to develop his or her knowledge and skills regarding project management as it relates to engineering. Entering students are generally required to hold an undergraduate degree in an engineering field, and can expect to take engineering courses, as well as courses on business administration, finance, law, marketing, and other technology-based courses. This degree will help the graduate obtain management level employment in an engineering or technology company. An MBA may be the best option for a student who desires to work as an executive, yet who isn’t solely interested in engineering and technology. An undergraduate degree in engineering is not a prerequisite for admission, and students in this type of program will take courses on business administration, finance and economics, project management, law, corporate strategy and organizational behavior, human resources, and other business courses as they relate to engineering topics. This degree may help a student find management-level employment in a wider array of industries, although it may not provide as much specialized knowledge in the field of engineering and technology. A dual MBA/MEM degree provides a comprehensive education on both business and engineering and project management, and is likely the best choice for an individual who desires to develop a thorough knowledge of both fields. Students in this program will take courses on engineering and project management, human resources, corporate behavior, organizational management, law, finance and economics, and many more. While this dual degree is more time-intensive than the other two, it will offer the best preparation for an individual who hopes to obtain executive-level employment in the technology or engineering industry, and who intends on using his or her extensive knowledge of business to stay at the helm of any type of operation.

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