Member Forum by Jessica Yoo Perry

ISE's quarterly column for IISE members to share their perspectives (September 2017)

Mix modalities for professional education

The debate rages about whether industrial and systems engineers should pursue an advanced degree or Six Sigma certification. But this choice is not a zero-sum game.

The curriculum, thoughts and behaviors taught in both the traditional (fulltime attendance at brick-and-mortar campuses) advanced industrial and systems engineering degrees and MBAs mainly target students who earned undergraduate degrees in the last five years. However, many mixedmodality (part-time on campus, online and blended full-time executive) advanced degree programs target professionals with five-plus years of experience. The mixedmodality format encourages complementary skill sets, thoughts and behaviors in a mutually beneficial manner. As mixed-modality formats become more popular, many reputable schools are providing such opportunities to adults who cannot attend school full time.

Classmates in an executive MBA, part-time master's or Ph.D. program have a wealth of knowledge with a collective bag of hard lessons learned for performance management and continuous improvement. The classroom discussions on how they managed different process, product or competitive changes provide context that purely technical certification classes may lack. Lean Six Sigma will provide you with advanced statistical tools and methodology to run a lean Six Sigma project and lead a functional team. However, it does not account for how the human element can hamper new business initiatives and process changes via delays, resistance from line personnel, lack of support from executives and other effects. And an MBA adds a holistic view into business geopolitical and strategy issues.

While you can use the blunt hammer of sound statistical methodology for project planning change, the human factor always will hold more influence than any statistical tool alone. Conversely, part-time and executive programs may not provide the depth that technical managers need to carry out performance measurement and management.

So, what is right for you? Like anything else in life, it depends.

For example, I knew that I eventually would switch careers from operational military (not related to industrial and systems engineering) and that attending graduate school full time for a master's in industrial engineering would provide the technical depth needed to pivot into a new career. However, I also knew that my civilian experience lacked profit and loss or general business exposure.

Cue in the application and efficiency of mixed-modality learning. Although I maintain a full-time job in the Washington, D.C., metro area, I'm a member of Weekend Executive MBA at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. The 19-month curriculum is taught on campus. Full-time and adult students meet in Durham, N.C., every other week with online delivery of homework, synchronous and asynchronous review sessions and exams. The Fuqua experience has introduced me to a collective experience of business, government and nonprofit technical experts, managers and executives who have generously shared stories of success and survival that can be applied to process and product improvement challenges. This invaluable knowledge isn't readily fungible when seeking a technical degree or technical certification alone.

For those considering similar options, here is a small sample of U.S.-based opportunities: Sep2017/MemberForumPerrysidebar.

Jessica Yoo Perry is a strategic planning and program specialist at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and board member of the National Capital IISE chapter.