Ozell Newman has worked as an electrical engineer in power distribution at Santee Cooper for nearly 24 years. One would think he is well-ensconced in his job. With two children and one abandoned attempt at an MBA two decades ago, returning to school might seem like it should be the furthest thing from his mind.
Newman recognized that the old guard is beginning to age out at the publicly-owned utility and that additional education might position him for future advancement. Still, a busy life left him vacillating.
Until, that is, he caught wind of the University of South Carolina’s graduate program for engineering management. The courses are taught one weekend each month and can be attended conveniently via videoconference at the Lowcountry Graduate Center.
The curriculum of the program is part engineering and part leadership skills, says Dr. Hanif Chaudhry, program director at USC. The program includes interdisciplinary courses in engineering, business, law and communications taught by professors from USC’s Darla Moore School of Business, School of Law and College of Mass Communications. Faculty from The Citadel also teach some of the courses. Students generally take two courses at a time and can graduate in a year-and-a-half.
Students earn a general master’s of engineering management degree or specialize in cybersecurity or energy. “It’s like an MBA for engineers,” Chaudhry said.
The flexibility of the program combined with the convenience of the location sold Newman, and he began his return-to-school adventure in 2015. The breadth of offerings opened his eyes to new ideas.
“I really enjoyed the marketing, accounting, journalism and legal ethics classes,” he said. “It strengthened my skills and exposed me to things I had never done. The accounting class involved things I had never experienced. Dealing with ledgers, budgets – that’s huge in this company if you want to work as a supervisor. Understanding the law side was also very enlightening. And we even created a website in the journalism class.”
Dr. Chaudhry says there are roughly 30 students in the program at any given time, including those at remote locations like the Lowcountry Graduate Center. A few of them eventually go on for their Ph.D.
Newman attended class with two other Charleston-area students and worked on group projects with them. The Lowcountry Graduate Center was a convenient and comfortable location, with a huge screen on which they would watch lectures and interact through mounted cameras.
For Newman, the master’s degree opens doors for his career, whether or not he rises through the ranks at Santee Cooper. “I might want to become a consultant,” he said. “I might pursue project management certification. It’s great to have options.”