Section: Archived News Stories

A new generation of engineers

October 15th, 2015 ›


Article excerpt from Vol. VIII No. 1, Fall 2015

Engineers as entrepreneurs

After Samuel F.B. Morse and Ezra Cornell's successful intercity test of the telegraph, Cornell partnered with Morse to run lines between more cities. The engineer once contracted to work behind the scenes found himself the owner of his own company and eventually a major shareholder of Western Union Telegraph Co.

Cornell's entrepreneurial spirit transformed his role from a small contributor to a major player in the industry who would decide which cities joined a new era of communication. And even more so than in the late 1800s, that spirit can make a difference for today's engineers entering their chosen careers.

"I think expectations of an engineer have grown considerably in the last 40 or 50 years," says Collins. "Today we expect an engineer to be able to start or lead a company, and so if we don't provide students with a full complement of skills, it's unfair to ask that of them."

That's why he's piloting a yet-to-be-named program for Ph.D. students. It will include a new business minor, leadership training and mentorship, fellowships and the opportunity to launch a product on campus.

Collins has enlisted Emmanuel Giannelis, Cornell Engineering's associate dean for research and graduate studies, to lead the program. Giannelis says some elements of the program already are being offered to students this fall. The college is continuing to raise funds and shape the program.

Emmanuel Giannelis, Cornell Engineering associate dean for research and graduate studies, works with students on a materials science project.
 Engineering Ph.D. programs at most colleges have remained stagnant over the years, despite a changing world and changing opportunities for graduates entering STEM careers, Giannelis says.

"It used to be that the career path of an engineer was very clear: He or she would be offered a job by one of the tech giants and then would begin to receive training. Now, companies are looking for someone who can bring entrepreneurial experience to the table. Some companies are even looking to buy out smaller startups," he says.

Undergrad engineering students seeking to make themselves more marketable have many options available to receive business education at Cornell, but that's not the case for Ph.D. students. That's why the new pilot program is aimed at Ph.D.s, and will build on existing programs for undergraduates, such as those offered by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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