Adam Payne found a match for his skills as a lead engineer and systems architect with the WPI Master of Science in Systems Engineering.

As Principal System Engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems, serving as a Deputy Program Manager for Engineering (DPME), and System Architect on a research and development project for the US Air Force, Adam knew it was time to pursue graduate education. “As my scope of responsibility and positional authority grew, I wanted the educational background and credentials to facilitate my performance and continued advancement.” But finding a program that was well-matched to his daily responsibilities was a challenge. He also struggled with the logistics of fitting in class time—as a project leader with a geographically-dispersed customer base he was frequently traveling. “Plus the last time I’d done homework, I didn’t have kids, a house, or a full-time job!”

When WPI’s MS in Systems Engineering program came onsite to the C4 Systems facility in Taunton, all the pieces fell into place.

“The program was spot-on for what I was looking for—the breadth and depth of content was provided in all the right areas.” The convenience of on-site instruction was also critical. “The level of coordination between CPE and the company gave me confidence that this program wouldn’t be tailored to full-time students without other business and life responsibilities. That, combined with the direct applicability of most of the content to my daily job responsibilities, made the integration into life’s rhythms much easier.

Adam was impressed with the flexibility he was afforded during the program. “Instructors really recognized business realities. I traveled a lot (perhaps 40% of the classes) and at times my teammates and I were collaborating across six different time-zones. The instructors made sure traveling students had recordings of the classes available and were flexible in scheduling presentations. I could dial in during breaks from field exercises to brief my classmates via speakerphone.” Further to the cohort model, Adam feels it helped solidify his learning.

“Being in a cross-project, cross-discipline network of students within the same industry provided a relevant context to all discussions of course material.”

Adam notes that WPI’s System’s Engineering curriculum helps systems engineers both strategically, with “big-picture” awareness of the disciplines and activities required for successful system deployment and support; and tactically, with tools and techniques that can be applied to execute project tasks like scheduling, tradeoff analyses, test planning, etc. “I feel the degree gives me greater credibility with our customers such as DoD scientists with advanced degrees and peers at other companies with which we collaborate. A relevant degree also rounds out the biography when I’m introduced to present at industry conferences.”

When talking about how the degree has helped him in his on-the-job activities, Adam feels he is better equipped to appreciate and understand the diversity of engineering and program management disciplines, and the associated activities that accompany projects of any size.

“This has been immensely helpful as the lead engineer of a small-scale project in which I need competence with a broader cross-section of activities than I might require as a member of a much larger team. The degree also exposed me to topics with which I hadn’t had direct prior career experience, particularly program management and system test and life-cycle management. I still refer back to my course materials when kicking off a new project or mentoring members of my team.”

 “I’ve been able to apply the knowledge and techniques from these courses to help my own projects become more successful. Overall it’s made me a well-rounded DPME and allowed me to help our customers communicate a compelling vision for the research and development we’re undertaking together.”

When asked what part of the program was most fulfilling for him, Adam didn’t hesitate to choose the Capstone Experience. “Applying the content of nearly every course to every lifecycle phase of a relevant project was a great reinforcement of what we’d learned.” He also appreciated the relevant industry experience that the instructors had—they could give personal examples from their professional careers and relate to the students’ experiences in a meaningful way, rather than simply espousing abstract academic theories.

Overall Adam feels the program has freed him to focus more on customer interactions. When asked what advice he would give to someone who is considering a WPI program, Adam responded: Go for it. It will open doors to broader responsibilities for folks early in their career path, and provides the theoretical and practical underpinnings to complement the experiences of more established employees.”


♥ Love this post? Subscribe to Catalyst.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *