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Gordon Engineering Leadership Program earns national recognition

The National Academy of Engineering is honoring Northeastern’s Simon Pitts and professor Michael B. Silevitch for their leadership and impact on the university’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Program. The academy’s annual award, named Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education, recognizes innovation in education that develops strong engineering leaders.

The Gordon Engineering Leadership Program—established in 2007 with a $20 million investment by Bernard M. Gordon who made an additional $10 million investment in 2014—creates an elite cadre of engineering leaders defined by their ability to invent, innovate, and implement in the field.

“We are greatly honored with this NAE recognition, which affirms the college’s commitment to an outstanding—yet multidimensional—engineering education, including skills needed for the workplace beyond strong technical competency,” said Nadine Aubry, dean of the College of Engineering. “Michael and Simon have done a fantastic job demonstrating how engineering leadership can be taught to engineering students in a focused and effective manner around a real-world challenge project posed by industry. The Gordon prize could not have come at a better time, just weeks after we announced the founding of the Gordon Insti­tute of Engi­neering Lead­er­ship at Northeastern—made possible by an additional generous investment by Bernard Gordon. I look forward for the college to further lead in this area.”​

One of the academy’s honorees, Pitts has played an integral role in growing the program to more than 30 students and in developing the curriculum since taking over as the program’s director in 2010. He has also been building a community of practice among the field, with institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, and others. This community has turned into a consortium that holds conferences, shares best practices and pedagogical approaches, and collaborates to enhance student experiences in similar programs nationwide.

“Winning the prize is both a tribute to the team and a validation of our innovative approach. We’ve created a systematic way of developing both character and the technical skills needed to lead engineering teams to successfully deliver in a challenging real-world environment,” Pitts said.

Through the graduate program, students pursue a master of science in engineering in a range of disciplines such as mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and engineering management, or a certificate in engineering leadership. Students, known as Gordon Fellows, simultaneously build leadership skills and grow their technical product development skills while earning their degree. This program’s emphasis on the delivery of a market worthy challenge project provides experiential learning, which is a cornerstone of Northeastern’s educational model, provides students with an invaluable competitive edge over their peers.

For his part, Silevitch, the program’s founding director, is now a lead program mentor. Through a unique “three-way mentoring” approach, students are paired with mentors from the program, with industry partners, and others with expertise in the student’s technical area. These mentoring relationships have had a critical impact on students’ success, he said.

“There were two key elements that needed to be incorporated into the program in order to accelerate the development of an effective leader,” Silevitch, Robert D. Black Professor in the College of Engineering and co-director of Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence said. “An engineering leader must be an engineer who is capable of understanding not only a specific field but is also able to grasp the multi-disciplinary aspects and trade-offs required for the design of modern products and systems. An engineering leader must also have a demonstrated record of accomplishing major challenges that required both technical depth and an intense team-based effort to succeed.”

The academy’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education is presented annually and includes a $500,000 award. It was established in 2001 to honor those leading the field in developing and cultivating strong engineering leaders. Past recipients have included individuals at Dartmouth, Tufts, and Stanford, among other institutions. Northeastern will receive its award at a campus event on April 10, 2015.

Pitts and Silevitch plan to use a portion of the funds to generate leadership case studies and supporting materials to be disseminated in easily adapted forms to the engineering leadership education community nationwide.

“It is critical that we provide tomorrow’s engineering leaders with context—actual examples of success and failure of complex engineering projects in the real world,” Pitts added. “These case studies will address areas where industry feedback has indicated a considerable need and they will maximize the impact and diffusion across engineering education and engineering practice.”

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