New Fellowship Program Helps Engineers Pursue Advanced Degrees
By Jill Gambon
Justin Reiter had no intention of ever stepping foot in a classroom again. After spending five straight years earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University, Reiter had settled into a job with Analog Devices, the $5.6 billion chip maker with headquarters in Wilmington, Massachusetts. An engineer in its defense and aerospace division working on microwave and radio frequency (RF) technologies, Reiter believed his student days were behind him.
Then he heard about a fellowship program his company was launching with UMass Lowell.
Under the new program, selected engineers from his division pursue a master’s degree full-time through UML’s Division of Graduate, Online and Professional Studies, with Analog Devices paying the tuition. While enrolled in the electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or computer science master’s programs, the students continue working at the company 20 hours a week and receive their full-time salary and benefits.
“I had never heard of anything like this,” Reiter says. “If you asked me up until the day I heard about the program, I would have said I’m not going back to school. But it was too good to pass up.”
“I see this degree as making me more versatile. It will improve my value to the organization by me being able to do lots of different things, like RF, electrical and mechanical engineering,” he says.
That is what Bryan Goldstein, vice president of Analog Devices’ aerospace and defense group, had in mind when he came up with the idea for the fellowship. Goldstein had participated in a similar program early in his career when he worked at Raytheon and earned a master’s degree at UMass Amherst.
“This program allows our engineers to develop expertise in a very specialized area. It puts them in a unique position in their careers,” he says.
“We want them to do well, to really absorb what they are learning and be part of the culture of the university,” he says.
Aside from proximity to campus—Analog Devices’ aerospace and defense group is located just a few miles away in Chelmsford, Massachusetts—Goldstein says the partnership with UML is a great fit in terms of the curriculum and work ethic.
Addressing the Skills Shortage
For executives like Goldstein, a shortage of highly skilled microwave engineers makes hiring a challenge, particularly at a time when business is robust.
“The growth of the business requires more engineers, and the industry has an aging workforce. People who started in the 1980s are starting to retire. I can’t hire for some positions,” he says.
In addition to being a good recruiting tool, Goldstein says the fellowship program ensures some continuity on his engineering team, as those chosen for the program agree to stay with the company for at least three years after finishing their degrees.
Helping to build a pipeline of highly skilled workers for regional employers is part of UMass Lowell’s mission, says Sandhya Balasubramanian, assistant dean for academic and corporate program development.
“As a state university, UMass Lowell is committed to supporting the growth of the economy,” she says.
Balasubramanian worked with Engineering Dean James Sherwood and Prof. Martin Margala, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop the program along with Goldstein and others at Analog Devices, a company the university had partnered with before on such initiatives as the co-op program and internships.
“Analog Devices is a tried and tested partner,” Balasubramanian says.
A Hands-on Sabbatical
Engineers chosen for the fellowship are not the only ones benefiting from the collaboration between the university and the company. Prof. Jay Weitzen of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering spent his spring semester sabbatical working at Analog Devices, learning about the latest advances in microwave-based array technology.
In addition to getting hands-on experience with technology that will not be released for a year or two, Weitzen also learned more about what is needed to prepare engineers for a rapidly evolving field. One example is the need for a microwave teaching lab on campus.
“The challenge is getting the lab experience for these students. Companies are paying a premium to hire young, microwave-trained engineers,” he says.
Weitzen says the pace of change in the industry puts pressure on companies like Analog Devices that need engineers with highly specialized skills.
“Microwave engineering is more experience-based than tools-based. Experience really matters,” he says.
For Karl Dwenson Tabiling, who was selected along with Reiter for the inaugural fellowship, his years of professional experience are now being enriched by his graduate studies.
Tabiling, an RF and microwave test development engineer who has worked for Analog Devices since 2008, says the opportunity to sharpen his skills is already paying off.
“As an undergraduate, I wondered why we were studying these things. What’s the application? I’m much more effective now, because I can connect what I’m learning to the real world,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot so far, and I’ve already applied a lot of what I’ve learned. In terms of knowledge, I’m confident I’ve moved to the next level.