M.S. in Engineering Management
“You always hear engineers don’t have social skills, people skills and such. We spend four years doing math. In undergrad, we dread group projects, but at work, essentially group projects are what you’re doing all day every day. We work with interdisciplinary, multifunctional groups, and you have to manage and work your way into a solution you like.”
M.S. in Engineering Management
“I learned about allocating resources, how best to allocate them. I really liked the leadership principles class. I think I work better with people, matching people with the right projects. I feel a lot better about all that than when I started.”
People we work with often influence our lives. Engineers Russell Murray and Christian Rodriguez met while working at Lockheed Martin in Camden, and they had both heard other employees of the aerospace company talk about earning master's degrees online from the University of Arkansas, nearly 300 miles away in Fayetteville.
"There was office talk," Murray said. "At one point, Christian moved over to my team's office area. I said, 'Hey, maybe I should go do this (enroll in a degree program.)' Christian said, 'I thought about it, too.' I was vocal about it. Then, he sent me a message he had applied, so I had to apply, too. Later, when we had a hard assignment, we joked with each other about whose idea this was."
They took the same classes at the same time to earn a Master of Science in Engineering Management. They didn't study together a lot but checking in with each other about assignments and tests helped keep him motivated, Murray said. They did work together on several class projects. After a test, the two would decompress by going to Native Dog Brewing Co. in Camden, which is owned by a friend of theirs, for pizza and a beer.
When staff of the University of Arkansas Global Campus planning this summer's Razorbug Diploma Tour contacted them, Murray and Rodriguez agreed Native Dog was where they wanted to have their diploma presentations.
U of A staff and faculty traveled for two weeks in June through northern and southern Arkansas celebrating graduates of online degree programs. The presentations featured as a backdrop the Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback, with tusks, snout, razor-edged, spine, hooves and curly tail. Gregory Parnell, a professor of practice and director of the College of Engineering's programs in engineering management and operations management, was one of the U of A faculty members who traveled to locations throughout the tour to present framed diplomas to graduates.
Cherie Rachel, senior director of industry and community engagement in the Division of Economic Development at the U of A, also traveled from Fayetteville to attend the event, and Ed Pohl, the new dean of the Graduate School and International Education, sent congratulatory letters and GSIE swag for the two new graduates. Family and friends attended along with other employees of Lockheed Martin, who joined Murray and Rodriguez to call the hogs.
Degree of Choice
Murray, 26, is a native of Arkansas and Rodriguez, 31, is a native of Florida. Murray grew up in Valley Springs in the northern part of the state and earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Rodriguez was born in Tampa and earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Rodriguez attended magnet schools with a STEM focus in middle school and high school, building his foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics before going to work as a technician for his dad's business in the last semester of his undergraduate degree program.
Murray also completed an online graduate certificate in project management.
After the diploma presentations, Parnell asked each graduate why he chose that particular master's degree.
Both said they felt like they had the technical skills they needed but wanted to expand their knowledge in areas such as project management, asset allocation and leadership.
Both went to work for Lockheed Martin shortly after graduating with their bachelor's degrees, Rodriguez in 2014 and Murray in 2019.
The Lockheed Martin facility in Camden is a manufacturing, final assembly, test and storage operation for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control programs. It's in Highland Industrial Park, which in 1944 was the land chosen as the location of the Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot. The depot was closed in the late 1950s, and the industrial park is now home to several top aerospace and defense corporations, including Raytheon Technologies, Aerojet Rocketdyne, General Dynamics and ArmTech Defense Products, in addition to Lockheed Martin.
Murray said his role as mechanical engineer consists of creating and modifying work instructions and standard operating procedures for the production and inspection staff to assemble the products from start to finish.
"I am also responsible for the procurement, maintenance, and improvement of custom tooling fixtures," he said. "I support the incorporation of engineering changes and control the manufacturing bill of material that specifies what parts are needed for assembly in each step of the build."
Rodriguez described his job as a controls engineer as the design, improvement and maintenance of automated equipment on site.
"This includes but is not limited to robotics, ovens, overhead cranes, HVAC systems, and other custom solutions," he said. "This also entails working with other engineering disciplines such as Mechanical, Quality, Industrial, etc. daily to identify the needs of any given production process/area."
"We work with engineers day in and day out," Murray said. "You always hear engineers don't have social skills, people skills and such. We spend four years doing math. In undergrad, we dread group projects, but at work, essentially group projects are what you're doing all day every day. We work with interdisciplinary, multifunctional groups, and you have to manage and work your way into a solution you like."
Rodriguez said he has a lot more knowledge he can use.
"I know more about all the planning required, the statements of work and understanding project management," he said. "I learned about allocating resources, how best to allocate them. I really liked the leadership principles class. I think I work better with people, matching people with the right projects. I feel a lot better about all that than when I started."
Murray offered some advice for anyone considering enrolling in an online master's degree.
"At times it was fun, and at times it was difficult," he said. "It's eight-week courses on a graduate level. It's fast-paced and a lot is thrown at you. I've had a lot of people ask about doing the program. I told them, if you can't dedicate 10-15 hours a week, don't do it just to put it on your resume. I don't try to dissuade them from it, but I tell them it's a lot of work."
Rodriguez offered a suggestion to U of A engineering faculty who teach online.
"Keep up what you all are doing," he said. "I definitely felt welcomed by all of my teachers. It seemed they were willing to drop everything to help me, all of my professors. I really appreciated it."