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UCSD Extension Programs Aim to Make Executives of Engineers

December 10, 1985|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

In 1982, Jim Bixby was up in the air when it came to continuing his education.

Each Tuesday during the school year, Bixby and a fellow engineer at San Diego-based Spin Physics would hitch a ride on the General Dynamics twin turboprop airplane that was carrying a handful of that company's engineers to Los Angeles for classes at the UCLA Graduate School of Management.

In Los Angeles, they rented a car and drove to the campus, where they spent several hours in classes. Late at night, the weary group flew back to San Diego.

"It was a grind," Bixby recalled earlier this month. The two-year program "demanded a very heavy commitment outside of class . . . and every Tuesday we were gone from noon to midnight."

Bixby remembered that grind during a subsequent stint on the advisory committee of the business and management department at the UC San Diego Extension, which was developing the first of what turned into three business courses that help engineers and scientists develop or hone managerial skills.

"The outgrowth of that (UCLA experience) was that we decided to try and get something similar going down here," said John Barrons, manager of educational services for General Dynamics' Convair Division in San Diego.

UCSD decided that the best way to fill that gap was by offering programs that catered to the local business community's needs, according to Herman Gadon, director of executive programs for the UCSD Extension.

"One unique feature of our programs is that they were all designed by the users," Gadon said. "(The business advisory council) did do its homework."

That homework focused on transforming "engineers and scientists into executives," Bixby said. "We assume that engineers and scientists have many good strengths . . . but they also have some pretty strong weaknesses.

"They're usually not very good with people, and they don't work well in groups. But they are good at making judgments when there are lots of uncertainties."

In 1983, UCSD Extension created an "Executive Program for Scientists and Engineers," which was aimed at managers with 5 to 10 years of managerial experience. The course, which runs for 10 months, helps technically trained managers prepare for career advances that will bring them in contact with greater numbers of people and programs, Gadon said.

The extension then created a basic course aimed at scientists and engineers with no managerial experience.

"We had the programs in place at the top and the bottom, but the advisory committee felt that there was something missing in the middle," Gadon said.

That gap led to creation of the Leadership and Management Program for Scientists and Engineers (LAMP), which will make its debut in January.

The LAMP and executive programs are highly selective, said Richard Skwarek, program director. Only managers who are suggested by their employers are eligible, and each course is costly: Employers must pay $4,200 in tuition for the executive program and $2,800 for LAMP.

The stiff fee has not blunted industrial interest in the 3-year-old executive program, Gadon said. Each year UCSD turns away several candidates to maintain a desirable class size.

"That $2,800 is an expression of the company's commitment to the individual they're nominating," Skwarek said. "It's saying that these are the up-and-comers, the people who are ready for the increasing responsibilities that larger projects--in a monetary sense and in terms of complexity--demand."

Convair is sending three of its more senior managers to the executive program and will send six lower-level managers to LAMP, Barrons said. "This is part of the way we're building a team of young, upward-moving people, the movers and shakers," he said.

Up-and-comers evidently recognize the career value attached to LAMP and the executive program, said Bixby, now president of Brooktree, a Sorrento Valley high-tech firm. When Brooktree recently recruited an engineer from a larger company, the engineer agreed to switch jobs, but only if Brooktree kept his employer's promise to sponsor him for the executive program.

Because the engineers and scientists generally have one or more degrees in addition to their work experience, UCSD has struggled to make its courses "relevant and practical," Tyndall said. "The key thing is getting people who are not strictly academicians. We try (to attract) people out in industry with academic backgrounds."

Although the class is made up of engineers and scientists with advanced technical degrees, "I'd suspect that most would have nothing else, and you need a world of expertise in negotiations, finance, manufacturing and marketing" to progress as a manager, Tyndall said.

"We want to give (students) a business appreciation, not just an education," said Tyndall, an engineer who "used to consider it a real nuisance when someone called me about a problem in the factory. My only concern was designing the product.

"I've gotten an appreciation of the rest of the business since those early days," said Tyndall, who now concentrates on "trying to pull together the high-tech engineering mentality with the needs of business and upper management. There is a gap between upper management and the engineers who are trying to get things done."

That gap becomes apparent because highly specialized engineers fail to understand how they fit into the corporate scene, said Tyndall, who added that engineers can be rudely awakened to their role by "some financial crisis.

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