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Initiative brings engineering and business together

Bradley Works recently sat down with Dr. Lex Akers, dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, and Dr. Darrell Radson, dean of the Foster College of Business Administration, to discuss Bradley’s cutting-edge convergence model. The distinctive educational plan promotes collaboration between business and engineering students and faculty to better prepare Bradley graduates to succeed in the 21st century global economy. The colleges’ collaborative efforts will be supported by a state-of-the-art facility constructed at LEED standards and equipped with the most modern technology.

Dr. Darrell Radson

Dean of the Foster College  of Business Administration

Education:

PhD, industrial and operations engineering, University of Michigan

MS, industrial and operations engineering, University of Michigan

MA, statistics, University of Michigan

MA, political science, University of Michigan

BS, political science, Northwestern University

Academic Experience:

Bradley University, 2012–present

  • Dean, Foster College of Business Administration

Michigan Technological University, 2008–2011

  • Dean, School of Business and Economics
  • Professor, School of Business and Economics

Drexel University, 2005–2008

  • Department Head, Decision Sciences
  • Associate Professor, Decision Sciences

John Carroll University, 2003–2005

  • Associate Dean and Director, Graduate Business Programs
  • Associate Professor, Business Information Systems

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 2000–2003

  • Associate Dean, University Outreach
  • Director, Graduate Business Programs
  • Associate Professor, Management in Manufacturing Organizations
  • Assistant Professor, Management in Manufacturing Organizations

Scholarship:

Dr. Radson has published research in the area of statistical methods for quality improvement and has received teaching awards at two universities.

Family:

Wife, Suzanne McDonough; two children

Dr. Lex Akers

Dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology

Education:

PhD, electrical engineering, Texas Tech University

MS, electrical engineering, Texas Tech University

BS, electrical engineering, Texas Tech University

Academic Experience:

Bradley University, 2012–present

  • Dean, Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology

University of Missouri, Columbia, 2001–2012

  • Associate Dean for Academic Programs
  • Adviser, Vice President of Academic Affairs
  • Chair, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

University of Texas, San Antonio, 1997–2001

  • Director, Engineering
  • Professor, Engineering Arizona State University, 1987–1997
  • Director, Center for Solid State Electronics Research
  • Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

University of Nebraska, 1976–1980

  • Assistant Professor, Engineering

Scholarship:

Dr. Akers is internationally recognized for his research of MOSFET (metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors) models and highly layered neural architectures.

Family:

Wife, Sally; two children

Explain the concept of convergence between the Foster College of Business Administration and the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology from an academic perspective.

Dr. Radson: Our vision for convergence is that Bradley becomes a university of national distinction through leadership and innovation, engineering and business, and education and scholarship. Our definition of convergence is developing curriculum, forming industrial partnerships and faculty scholarships, and educating both engineering and business students who will capitalize on high-potential business opportunities.

Dr. Akers: Convergence is absolutely critical and will provide a wonderful competitive advantage for our students. To be successful in their careers, engineering students have to be solid engineers, but if they also learn to work with business professionals and gain certain business skills, they will have a faster path to corporate leadership, and that’s what we want. We want our students to be leaders.

How will a new building assist in fostering convergence between students and faculty members in those colleges?

Dr. Akers: One way to enhance convergence is by having a facility where we naturally interact with each other around the clock. Innovation is not sending an email or even video chatting. It is walking the halls, talking to somebody and getting the energy going. By good fortune, we have two buildings next to each other that need to be replaced. It is a unique and extremely valuable situation.

Why has Bradley chosen to be a pioneer in convergence?

Dr. Radson: The concept of convergence — having students in engineering and business work together — is not a new idea. It’s been discussed in universities for years, but Bradley is bold and visionary. We have the right leadership, the right students, the right faculty and the right set of corporate partners. Additionally, Bradley is the ideal size. This is the perfect storm, and our challenge is to seize the opportunity now.

What do engineering and business students stand to gain from converging the two disciplines?

Dr. Radson: Business students will learn how to evaluate high-potential business opportunities, especially those based on new technology. They will learn to integrate the functional areas of business and how to plan and grow these businesses, how to effectively communicate and work with people of other disciplines in a collaborative setting, and how to work with technical people on new product planning and development.

Dr. Akers: When a Bradley student is several years past graduation, employers will be able to look at that Bradley student and a student from another quality engineering college and tell a difference. Our student will always look at new ideas and new technology, but he or she will also be engaged in the business of the corporation.

What new experiential learning opportunities will be developed for students from the convergence initiative?

Dr. Akers: We’ve worked with corporations for many years, but now we are asking not just for an engineering challenge, but also business constraints. That changes the equation, and I think it will revolutionize how we provide experiential learning through corporate development.

Dr. Radson: Beginning this fall semester, we have three student teams combining engineering and business in convergence projects. One is an entrepreneurial endeavor, one is with a company that has been in existence but needs technological and business help, and another is with Caterpillar. These are two-semester projects in which the students have to work together collaboratively to look at both the engineering and business aspects of moving these technologies into the marketplace. 

What has been the response from students to convergence?

Dr. Radson: The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. They are curious, innovative and looking for ways to make themselves better.

Dr. Akers: When I meet with parents, many of them are successful business people, and they’re telling us our convergence model is terrific. They want their sons and daughters in engineering and business to have these skill sets because they realize how important they are.

How have faculty members responded?

Dr. Akers: Dr. Radson and I jumped on this train, but the faculty is driving it. They created this concept of convergence, and they are passionate about it. We are eager to be involved, leading this and helping the enthusiasm grow.

How do you explain the increased interest in both the engineering field and the business field across the globe?

Dr. Radson: I think there is eagerness in this world to solve societal problems, to grow sustainable businesses and to educate our students differently to do that. There is also awareness that we need to develop students who are highly energetic, proactive and looking for new opportunities and ways to do things differently than from what was done before.

Dr. Akers: Engineers have to introduce new products into the market more rapidly. The idea that they can sit in isolation and come up with great ideas doesn’t work anymore. They have to work collaboratively with a three-month turnaround from an idea to production and understand the constraints that go into that.

How long will convergence take, or is it an ongoing process?

Dr. Akers: It is a process, something we are going to continue to enhance and grow. We certainly hope that by the start of 2016 we have a building under construction.

Dr. Radson: We continue to develop specific goals and timelines with the understanding that convergence is evolutionary. Bradley is a pioneer of this, so we have to develop and experiment and move forward. We need to constantly learn and build upon what we have started.

How does convergence build leaders?

Dr. Akers: Leaders have to be able to work in multidisciplinary teams. That’s a skill that is practiced and learned, and one that provides significant added value.

Dr. Radson: I think there is a close connection between experiential learning and leadership development. If you give students experiential learning challenges that they have to come together and work on, they will have to be inquisitive and communicate well. They will have to be creative, confident and bold enough to present their ideas, and I think those are all qualities of a great leader.