Luck seems antithetical to engineering. There are no equations, statistics or models for luck – there is no control.
But to Wick Moorman (CE '75), the recently retired chairman and CEO of railroad company Norfolk Southern, luck matters. It has, he insists, been a central force of his career.
"I have led a life of extraordinary good fortune," says Moorman.
Which is not to say that years of railroading experience (as well as that Georgia Tech degree) didn’t help him along the way.
An engineer by training and a businessman by trade, Moorman recently delivered spring’s Hyatt Distinguished Alumni Leadership Lecture, a biannual event sponsored by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
During his speech, held in Tech’s Engineered Biosystems Building, he shared lessons in leadership and stories from Norfolk Southern, where he spent nearly his entire professional life.
Moorman is an accomplished and well known businessman. But in his speech to a room of professors, students, and even some former NS employees, he emphasized the role played by sheer luck.
“A big, big part of that good fortune,” he told the crowd, “was finding my way up here, to Georgia Tech.”
Like many kids, Moorman grew up loving trains. He was also good with numbers and enjoyed science, so when it was time for college, engineering seemed like a natural choice for his major.
Moorman launched his railroading career at Georgia Tech, taking a co-op position with Norfolk Southern predecessor Southern Railway. Though he enrolled at Tech as a mechanical engineering major, he was referred to a civil engineering group when trying to find co-op work with the rail line. Before long, he switched majors and become a civil engineering student.
“Pure serendipity,” he says.
He continued working for Southern Railway after graduating. Early on, he labored in the track department before heading to Harvard Business School. He returned to the railroad company after receiving his MBA, and he went on to hold illustrious titles with NS such as assistant vice president for stations, terminals and transportation planning, and vice president for information technology. In 2005, he was named president and CEO, and the title of chairman was added in 2013.
Taking the reins at Norfolk Southern
When Moorman was in the running to become CEO, he figured he was as qualified as any other candidate. But when his boss told him that he’d been chosen for the job, Moorman says, it was “one of the most sobering moments of my life.”
Suddenly, the momentousness of the role was laid bare. He realized, again, how luck had shaped his life’s course and propelled him toward his company’s top post.
And so Moorman got to work to make the best of his fortune.
Norfolk Southern had cultivated a reputation for prioritizing safety among its employees, operations, and communities served. To lift that commitment to the next level, Moorman reasoned, it was time to examine the company’s own culture and try to improve from within.
“Corporate culture is extraordinarily important,” Moorman says. He’s proud that during his time as CEO, NS hashed out a set of company values and tried to improve employees’ experiences.
During his lecture, Moorman was also candid about the lessons he learned along the way. His honesty is perhaps borne of a certain freedom – he is retired, after all, and he doesn’t have to answer to anyone these days. But listening to him speak, you sense that self-reflection has always been natural for him.
He ruminated on the importance of being receptive to bad news.
“You don’t ever shoot a messenger,” he told the crowd. “You honor a messenger.” And he said that although vision and decisiveness are important traits for a CEO, so is the need to “remember you’re human.”
The power of trains
Decades before the fancy titles and big responsibilities, though, Moorman was just another train-loving guy at Georgia Tech. And in some ways, that part of him is still the core of who he is. Though his career hinged on the business side of Norfolk Southern, he is grateful for his engineering education.
Moorman grew up in Mississippi, but he knew that “Georgia Tech was the preeminent engineering school in the South, if not the nation, as it is today.” And so, lured by the strong reputation, life in a big city, and a chance to work as a co-op student, he came to Tech without having ever set foot on its campus before. (There’s that good luck again.)
His enthusiasm for trains hasn’t dimmed over the years. He talked up the railroad business during his lecture, highlighting its role in moving everything from gravel to big-screen TVs.
He hopes some of today’s Georgia Tech students find the same excitement in trains that he does. And if they do, he’d encourage them to pursue their interests and make their own luck, so to speak.
“Anyone who has any interest in a company where you can go do interesting things, where you will be given a lot of responsibility, and where you can, if you want, have a career,” Moorman says, “should look at the railroad business.”
Civil engineering alumnus Wick Moorman found serendipity in a life of railroading.
Six members of the College of Engineering faculty and staff have been awarded Institute Research Awards. These honors are presented by the the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and signify outstanding achievements of Georgia Tech staff as both mentors and researchers.
Material Sciences and Engineering professor Zhong Lin Wang received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Innovation. This award is presented to the faculty member recognized as working at the forefront of discovery, and whose research results have had a demonstrable impact. Wang’s research has made groundbreaking contributions to the synthesis, characterization, and fundamental understanding of physical properties of nanostructures. His innovation of a two-stage power management and storage system could dramatically improve the efficiency of triboelectric generators that harvest energy of human motions. Wang will receive $10,000 toward his research.
Gary Spinner was awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Research Enterprise Enhancement award. This honor is awarded to a staff member who consistently betters Georgia Tech’s research program but is not a traditional researcher. Nominated by faculty, this person excels in areas such as securing of funding or the application and deployment of research. Spinner is the senior assistant director of lab operations in the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, and he will be awarded $5,000 toward his efforts.
Hang Lu, Love Family Professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was granted the Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Advisor award. This is given in recognition of the achievements of a faculty member's doctoral students who completed all degree requirements from 2011 to 2015. Along with thesis advising, Lu researches biological micro-electro-mechanical systems and microfluidic devices. Lu will receive $10,000 toward her efforts.
The Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development award was given to Krishendu Roy, Ravi Bellamkonda, and Robert Guldberg. Krishendu Roy is the Robert A. Milton Chair in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. The Krish Roy Lab focuses on development of new biomaterial-based strategies for gene/drug delivery and stem cell engineering. Ravi Bellamkonda, chair of the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, is head of the Bellamkonda Neurological Biomaterials and Cancer Therapeutics Laboratory. Robert Guldberg holds the Petit Director's Chair in Bioengineering and Bioscience and is a professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. His lab was established to create strategies and enable technologies for the functional restoration of damaged or degenerated musculoskeletal tissues with a focus on bone and cartilage. All will be collectively awarded $25,000 toward research efforts.
The awards honor both faculty and staff members from around the college.
College of Engineering assistant professors Anna Erickson, Jonathan Rogers and Omer Inan have earned the 2016 Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Erickson and Rogers are assistant professors in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering; Inan is an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes outstanding educators within the untenured junior faculty from the Schools of Aerospace Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering (as well as the College of Computing). Award recipients are selected for extraordinary effectiveness in classroom teaching, educational innovations, inspiration spread to students, and impact on their students’ postgraduate successes.
Anna Erickson joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2012, after completing her M.S and Ph.D. in nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erickson’s research focuses on nuclear reactor design and national security, connected by the current need for proliferation-resistant nuclear power.
Jonathan Rogers also joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2012, after completing both his M.S and Ph.D in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. Focusing on developing and improving actively controlled autonomous vehicles, Rogers’ most recent research emphasizes the morphing of vehicle concepts that can exhibit hybrid locomotion or traverse through varying types of media.
Omer Inan, meanwhile, joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2013. Inan received his M.S and Ph.D in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He is interested in designing clinically relevant medical devices and systems, and translating them from the lab to patient-care applications. One focus of his research is in developing new technologies for monitoring chronic diseases at home.
Along with the title, Lockheed Martin also includes a $2,000 grant for each recipient.
Zhong Lin Wang, Hightower Chair in Materials Science and Engineering, has been given the Distinguished Scientist award from The Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) for his innovative contributions to nanostructure research.
The SURA Distinguished Scientist award is presented to people who have worked to support the SURA mission "to advance collaborative research and to strengthen the scientific capabilities of its members and nation." Along with the award, Wang will be receiving a $10,000 honorarium.
Wang joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 1998. Under his direction, the Georgia Tech Electron Microscopy Center was established in 1999. Wang is also the founding director for the Center on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech. Since then, Wang has gone on to make significant discoveries in nanostructure research, including being the first to synthesize and understand the growth processes of novel oxide nanostructures.
His award will be presented during the April meeting of the SURA Board of Trustees at North Carolina State University.
Phanish Suryanarayana and Chloé Arson, assistant professors in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, have both been granted CAREER awards. This award is among the most prestigious a junior faculty member can receive.
Given by the National Science Foundation, CAREER awards go to newer faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and blending these two fields. Awardees are given yearly grants in order to further their research efforts.
Phanish Suryanarayana joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2011, after completing his Ph.D. in aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests are in multiscale modeling, ab-initio calculations, density functional theory, continuum mechanics and smart materials.
Suryanarayana’s CAREER grant will be used to develop an inexpensive high-fidelity computational framework for the discovery of nanostructures with unprecedented properties that can be tailored to technological applications. Current experimental and computational techniques typically rely on empirical insight, which makes the process both costly and protracted. Through his research, Suryanarayana hopes to accelerate this process, thus making it more readily available. By increasing accessibility, he aims to incorporate multidisciplinary nanotechnology-related curriculum into K-12, undergraduate and graduate education.
Chloé Arson, meanwhile, joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2012 after receiving her Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering at École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Her research focuses on the theoretical and numerical modeling of damage and healing in rock, as well as the impacts of rock microstructure on macroscopic properties.
Arson’s project will focus on enhancing engineers' understanding of the formation and healing of rock fractures as they pertain to underground energy and waste storage systems. Some objectives of this CAREER award include understanding and predicting changes in rock fractures; developing numerical models of fracture networks; formulating and assessing innovative models of fracture damage and healing; and interpreting rock deformation and fluid flow instabilities resulting from fracture damage and healing.
This CAREER grant will also be used to enhance educational advancements by integrating graduate-undergraduate mentoring opportunities with training in geotechnology design and research.
Arson and Suryanarayana will each be awarded $500,000 over five years to support their research.
Phanish Suryanarayana and Chloé Arson will each be awarded $500,000 over four years to support their work.
Peng Qiu, an assistant professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been granted a CAREER award. This award is among the most prestigious a junior faculty member can receive.
Given by the the National Science Foundation, CAREER awards go to newer faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and blending these two fields. Awardees are given yearly grants in order to further their research efforts.
After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2007, Qiu joined the Georgia Tech faculty in the fall of 2013. His research focuses on bioinformatics and computational biology, targeting statistical signal processing, machine learning, control systems and optimization.
While mathematical modeling is essential in the research of complex biological systems, experimental data is often lacking.With his CAREER project, Qiu seeks to help close the information gap that exists between both limited data and complex modeling. Concentrating on experimental design and model reduction in systems biology, Qiu’s award will be used to develop computational algorithms to identify experiments that minimize parameter uncertainty. He also seeks to develop model-reduction algorithms based on manifold learning, explore their ability to identify mechanisms for the adaptation behavior, and apply the proposed algorithms to study protein signaling pathways and cell differentiation processes.
The algorithms will be implemented in open-source software, which will be offered to researchers from several disciplines. Qiu will be awarded over $440,000 over four years to support his research.
Georgia Tech offers students plenty of chances to design their own inventions and build their own startups. But a unifying thread was missing -- something to link the entrepreneurial lessons in these experiences.
Now, a major gift from alumnus Chris Klaus is giving Tech a new way to do just that. On April 1, the Institute and the College of Engineering will formally launch CREATE-X, a collective of programs designed to boost students' entrepreneurial confidence and give them the tools they need to establish startups.
Many of the programs under the CREATE-X umbrella, such as the Startup Lab course, have already begun to be offered. But CREATE-X will unite them with a common goal: equipping undergraduate students with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences to be entrepreneurially confident.
"These programs have always been part of a larger vision," says Professor Raghupathy Sivakumar, the Wayne J. Holman Chair in Electrical Engineering. He is the director of CREATE-X and one of the architects behind it. Professor Emeritus Ray Vito, a longtime champion of Georgia Tech’s student innovation ecosystem, is another architect behind the effort and serves as a special advisor for CREATE-X.
Open to all undergraduates across campus, CREATE-X is based on three simple principles: Learn, Make, Launch. The idea is that students who participate in CREATE-X will choose from an assortment of programs that correspond with each of these principles. The signature offerings of CREATE-X that correspond to each of the three principles will be, respectively, the Startup Lab course, the Idea to Prototype Undergraduate Research Experience, and the Startup Summer program.
Eventually, students will advance through all three concepts, and they’ll graduate Georgia Tech equipped with the entrepreneurial skills to succeed in both startup settings and larger, well-established companies.
One of CREATE-X’s defining features is Startup Summer, part of the program’s Launch portion. This summer, 20 teams are expected to participate.
Klaus, the namesake of the Institute’s Klaus Advanced Computing Building, has discussed his own experiences in entrepreneurship with students in the Startup Lab course. He is the founder of Kaneva, a social gaming company, and he sees Startup Summer as a transformational opportunity for Georgia Tech students.
By keeping students in school while they build their businesses, Klaus says, CREATE-X will occupy a unique position among startup accelerators. And, of course, students will get the business acumen and real-world experience they need to succeed with their companies.
“CREATE-X will be a revolutionary program for Georgia Tech, and I'm thrilled to help the Institute's efforts in getting students excited about innovation and entrepreneurship,” he says.
Other elements that will distinguish CREATE-X from similar programs at peer institutions will be its singular focus on undergraduate students, emphasis on the Learn, Make, Launch pathway that will cater to students throughout their undergraduate careers, and a strong reliance on the cross-disciplinary maker mindset that defines Georgia Tech.
Another part of what makes the program unique, though, is that participation requirements are somewhat flexible: No one will have to complete a strict regimen of courses to be involved.
That’s because organizers want to make it easy as possible for students to dive in to CREATE-X. All majors are invited to participate, but the program itself will be housed in the College of Engineering.
"We’ve built a reputation for innovation, and I’m excited to see how CREATE-X builds on that by focusing on entrepreneurial skills," says Gary May, the College of Engineering dean.
May is a member of the program’s executive team. That team also includes Professor Ravi Bellamkonda, the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering chair; Professor Steve McLaughlin, the Steve Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Professor Bill Wepfer, the Eugene C. Gwaltney, Jr. School Chair of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.
"The 'X' in CREATE-X is based on the notion that our students can create anything they want through their ideas – be it their own jobs, exciting startups, a new world, or their very future," says Bellamkonda.
Eventually, organizers foresee the program reaching thousands of students across Georgia Tech. Other campus programs that CREATE-X will coordinate with in achieving its vision include VentureLab, the InVenture Prize competition, Startup Exchange, and Georgia Tech’s co-op program.
"Many of these opportunities focus on interdisciplinary work, a hallmark of Georgia Tech’s curriculum," says McLaughlin.
With Klaus’ gift to CREATE-X, more students will be able to polish their skills and prepare for the business world – whether they want to join a large company or make a startup from scratch.
"We are finally," says Sivakumar, "going to provide a platform for entrepreneurial students."
CREATE-X will have a unique focus on Georgia Tech's undergraduate students.
One road leads deeper into the field, the other to a less defined place. The roads may diverge or be intertwined – only time will tell.
Such is the riddle confronting newly minted engineers who are deciding whether to pursue a master of business administration or an advanced degree in engineering. On the surface, unlocking such a riddle seems simple. Should you add a skill set or further immerse yourself in a field of study? Which is the better answer – breadth or depth?
But as College of Engineering graduates find, making such a decision can be complex. It involves evaluating and capitalizing on the potential for reward, personal and financial. It’s figuring out how to leverage inherent strengths while venturing outside comfort zones.
And while no decision is irreversible, the stakes can be high. We asked several engineering graduates how they went about choosing their future through either an MBA or an M.S./Ph.D. What they said may be of value for those who will decide next. If interested, check out the MBA program in Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business.
Lead product marketing manager at AT&T B.S. (CEE) ’02, MBA ’10
I almost went back to get an M.S. in environmental engineering after finishing my undergraduate study. Thinking hard about it, I thought that if I could get a master’s in engineering, I needed to be comfortable with being an environmental engineer the rest of my life. I was 23 at that point and thought I wasn’t ready to make that commitment.
A professor at Tech recommended that I go out and work first, then go back to school. So I got into real estate development. I had co-oped as an undergrad with a small company, working on the audit side of real estate development. It was a great job because I wasn’t behind a desk – I was out in the field 70 percent of the time doing inspections.
After my MBA, I went to work here at AT&T and am now the in the streaming-video space. I was previously in the tower real estate group – we rent space on tens of thousands of towers, and each one is part of an overarching deal with the owner of the tower. I put together some models of where we are with each lease, what we’re paying, what’s driving the rent up or down, all of which involved tons of analytics.
So the analytical background of my engineering education has really helped. And it didn’t come naturally to me – it was beaten into me at Georgia Tech, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The business degree is very complementary. It was a very applied education, and now when people talk business, I understand the language. I know how to write an effective business plan and understand why decisions are made – that’s big.
Senior director, project management at Science Applications International Corporation B.S. (ME) ’84, M.S. (ME) ’86, Ph.D. (ME) ’96
Unfortunately, there is no single, simple answer to the question of whether an engineer should get an MBA degree. If your career goals are in engineering management or in starting a business of your own, an MBA education is invaluable – practically essential. If, however, your career goals lean more toward fundamental research and development (R&D), limited time and resources are best spent pursuing advanced engineering degrees and, perhaps, postdoctoral research opportunities. In the latter case, MBA studies fall more into the would-be-nice category. There is, of course, an entire continuum of career possibilities between these two cases.
I have a Ph.D. in engineering and never pursued an MBA. Being primarily on a research and development career path, it never seemed to be a good investment to pause R&D career development in order to pursue an MBA. I managed to pick up the R&D management knowledge that I needed through company training courses and on-the-job experience.
My advice is to do some homework. Choose several people whose careers most resemble what you would like your career to become. Research their backgrounds – their degrees, when they got them, various jobs and positions they’ve held. If possible, interview them. Get their thoughts on how an MBA has benefited or would benefit their career. The insight gained from this information will greatly inform a decision on whether you should invest in an MBA.
Senior programming manager at The Coca-Cola Company B.S. (ME) ’04, MBA ’09
I worked for a couple of years out of college and got to the point where it was either going to take quite a few years of experience with the company I was with to get ahead – or get a business degree. So I decided that engineering coupled with an MBA would enable me to change jobs, change careers and further my options.
My degree in mechanical engineering taught me how to approach a problem – to work through it by taking a lot of information and data and condensing it in a very usable and digestible format. I find a lot of engineers whom I work with approach things in the same way. So mechanical engineering gave me strong technical and analytical problem solving.
The MBA education further refined this by helping me think about things in a different way. The MBA allowed me to think through a lot of things and understand the business environment. It also gave me more of an international perspective, which is really important.
Consultant and former chief commercial officer of CardioDX B.S. (Eng Sci) ’89, M.S. (ME) ’93, Ph.D. (ME) ’96
After nearly 20 years in Silicon Valley, I believe that what you do with what you know is what ultimately matters. After all, it’s successful execution that differentiates you in a market where pretty much everyone was top in the class academically.
But you constantly have to expand what you know to stay competitive, and there are many ways to develop that. For some, that will mean getting an MBA right on the heels of their engineering degree. For others, that will mean learning on the job and developing business acumen because you have to in order to get the next job you want — that’s how I have done it, and it has worked well for me.
However engineers choose to develop their business skills, I remain convinced that doing so is increasingly important to create their own future opportunities beyond R&D. So finding a way to do it that works for them, whether in a formal MBA program or in the next job assignment, is the key.
Associate professor at Arizona State University B.S. (EE) ’98, M.S. (ME) ’02, M.S. (EE) ’03, Ph.D. (BME) ’03
I think we over-focus on what a degree is called these days. When you go out in the world and do things, what matters most is the skills you have. I’ve worked with engineers who are better managers than management majors, and vice versa. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the title is on your diploma. What matters is what you can, and will, do with your ability.
Engineering was an appealing undergraduate degree because I love math. Here’s what I realized: What I loved most about engineering is using math, modeling, design and other skills to solve problems. It’s invigorating.
In my career, I wanted to work on problems I was passionate about. As soon as I finished my Ph.D., I started a company called 4D Imaging that makes image processing plug-ins for medical and military applications. Then I wanted to do something different, so I went to work on Wall Street. I used my math and software skills to come up with algorithmic strategies for trading the derivatives markets.
I loved a lot of things about Wall Street, but the motivation to solve problems wasn’t as compelling as it was on the biomedical side. So I was excited to come back to an environment changing people’s lives, here at Arizona State. I’ve been working on models for surgical planning, so we can simulate medical device-based treatments before they’re applied to people.
When you do what you do very well, you’ll always have opportunities.
For those still torn between an MS or an MBA there's some good news. Thanks to a new dual-degree program launched at Georgia Tech in early 2016 students have the option to pursue both simultaneously. This option is available for master's and doctoral students pursuing an advanced degree in industrial engineering, electrical or computer engineering, industrial and systems engineering, and mechanical engineering. To find out more about the newly launched program visit the Scheller College of Business dual degree program website.
Which is better – an MBA or an M.S.? Alumni who have made the journey share their insights.
College of Engineering Professor Rosario A. Gerhardt was recently awarded the Goizueta Foundation Faculty Chair.
This position was created to recognize leaders for their outstanding educational work and dedication to diversity issues. Chosen leaders have a positive impact on students through mentorship, and they also affect the quality of research and educational programs and assist Georgia Tech in efforts to recruit students and faculty of Hispanic/Latino origin.
Gerhardt, a professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering, will be receiving funds to support her programs. She will also be working closely with the Goizueta Early Career Professor, Julian Rimoli of the School of Aerospace Engineering, and the director of Hispanic Programs, Jorge Breton, in recruiting and mentoring Hispanic/Latino students and faculty.
Gerhardt joined Georgia Tech in 1991 as an associate professor, and she was promoted to full professor in 2001. She is involved in research that has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and various industrial companies. Her current research focuses on determining structure-property-processing relationships in a wide range of materials.