Issue Date: November 9, 2009
A U.S. District Court jury in Philadelphia has awarded a former student $435,678 in compensation for not getting the master’s management degree he says he expected to get from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business.
Instead, his degree came from Penn Engineering. Last month, the jury agreed with the former student, Frank Reynolds, who is now chief executive officer of the Cambridge, Mass., biotech firm InVivo Therapeutics, that the university misled him. The university insists that Wharton was a cosponsor of the management program in which Reynolds was enrolled and that it made clear his degree would come from the engineering school. The university says it intends to appeal the award.
In 2002, Reynolds enrolled in the university to receive an Executive Masters in Technology Management (EMTM). Created by engineering faculty and professors at the Wharton school, the EMTM program teaches midcareer technology geeks to manage the innovation process and hone entrepreneurial skills.
Students who complete the $120,000 two-year program receive a master of science degree in engineering and an EMTM certificate from Penn Engineering and Wharton. C&EN interviewed faculty, graduates, and students in the now-20-year-old program, and not one of them quibbled about the value of the EMTM degree or program.
Although not commenting directly on the dispute with former student Reynolds, EMTM Program Director Dwight Jaggard points out that all degrees are awarded by the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school that ranks among the top 15 universities worldwide.
Speaking to 30 or so prospective students at a Penn Club gathering in New York City a few days before the jury award was announced, Jaggard clearly said of the EMTM: “This is not an M.B.A. program or an M.B.A. with a technology track.”
In a separate interview with C&EN, Jaggard, who helped found the EMTM program, says, “This program is at the intersection of technology, business, and leadership.” He adds that “students come in as engineers of one type or another and come out as entrepreneurs capable of assessing new business opportunities.”
Penn Engineering and Wharton faculty designed the EMTM program with the help of firms such as DuPont, Rohm and Haas (now part of Dow Chemical), SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), and AT&T. The companies also provided early start-up funding. The first class of 11 students was made up largely of engineers from information technology and telecommunications companies.
Among the 130 students in the program today are financial executives who are looking for a better way to understand new technology, Jaggard notes. “We’re looking for diversity in the student body,” he says.
Of the 57 students who entered the program in September, from a pool of 220 applicants, five came from the financial services industry. The entering class also includes students from pharmaceutical, manufacturing, aerospace, and consulting businesses. Six entering students already have master’s degrees in business, Jaggard says. And more than half of the entering class have bachelor of science degrees.
Students must take 10 core classes in business areas such as accounting, corporate finance, managerial economics, and marketing strategies. They also must take at least six classes in technology areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, advanced materials, and telecommunications. And to graduate, they must complete at least four additional classes in their choice of technology or management subjects.
One of the electives is a class called “Managing R&D Under Pressure.” Ernest Gilmont, the adjunct professor who teaches it, says the class touches on global intellectual property management strategies and cultural attitudes in different countries toward protecting intellectual property. Gilmont spent a number of years in the chemical industry, including at specialty chemicals maker Millmaster Onyx.
By and large, students who enroll in the program put more than time into obtaining the degree. Nearly two-thirds of entering students either pay for the program entirely on their own or with only partial help from an employer. Twenty years ago, employers picked up all student expenses.
Despite the steep cost, the program is a good value, Jaggard contends. He figures that the average payback in the form of higher earnings for those getting the degree is two to three years. “Your mileage may vary,” Jaggard cautions, and not everyone will do so well.
“The program changed my whole way of thinking,” says Justin A. Alexander, who graduated in 2004 and is now director of R&D and systems information technology at Purdue Pharma. “It powered up my career with tons of new ideas.” Alexander adds that he knew he would get an engineering school degree when he graduated. “If I had wanted a Wharton M.B.A., I would have gone for it. But I didn’t want to be a Goldman Sachs trader.”
David Proctor, who will graduate in May, says he was attracted to the EMTM program specifically for insights it offered into evaluating new technology. A senior manager with the private equity firm Milestone Partners, Proctor says he has learned a lot about technology life cycles and their impact on companies and industries.
Although the program’s affiliation with Wharton may attract some, one prospective student says he’s not bothered that he won’t get a Wharton degree. “The beauty of the program is that you learn to talk to financial people in their own language,” says Joseph Sroka, who got his electrical engineering degree in 1974 and is now a management consultant.
Sroka expects to apply for the program and hopes to enter next year if he is accepted. “I will take a hit on my home equity to finance the cost,” he acknowledges. “I could take my money to Atlantic City, but I’m not a gambler, and the EMTM program seems like a surer bet.”
Although one disgruntled alumnus feels otherwise, Jaggard and others see the program as worthwhile. The program, Jaggard says, is for those who are “preparing for higher levels of leadership in organizations where capitalizing on emerging technologies is key to success.”
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