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Developing Personal Case Studies as a Method for Deepening Lessons in Engineering Leadership

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Curriculum in Engineering Leadership Development

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.503.1 - 26.503.24



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Paper Authors


Steven W. Klosterman Northeastern University

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Mr. Klosterman is a Director and Professor of the Practice in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program at Northeastern University.

He has over 25 years of experience in the high technology in computer architecture and systems design at the Digital Equipment Corporation and at startup Stellar Computer. He joined Sun Microsystems in 1990 as a microprocessor designer. At Sun, he led and managed hardware engineering, product design and systems engineering organizations, served as a Director of Engineering in Worldwide Operations and a Product Line Director running a program management organization. Prior to joining Northeastern University, he was Senior Director of Product Management at the Satcon Technology Corporation, a leading maker of commercial solar inverters.

Mr. Klosterman received a BSECE from the University of Cincinnati in 1983, and an SM in Engineering and Management from MIT in 2000 as a fellow in the Systems Design and Management (SDM) Program.

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Steven T. McGonagle Northeastern University

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Professor of Practice in Engineering Leadership, Northeastern University Gordon Engineering Leadership Program
Steve McGonagle has held numerous command and leadership positions during his 23-year career in the US Army Corps of Engineers. He is a graduate of Norwich University and Florida Tech, where he earned a master’s in Organizational Leadership and Psychology. He is a US Army Ranger and served as Professor of Military Science and Leadership at Providence College, and also at Florida Tech. Prior to assuming his teaching role at Northeastern Universities Gordon Engineering Leadership program, he spent five years in industry as Director of Operations of King Industries in Norwalk CT.

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Simon Pitts Northeastern University

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Simon Pitts is director of Northeastern University’s Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership and professor of practice in engineering leadership.
Before joining Northeastern University in this role he most recently directed the Ford-MIT Research Alliance. As a senior executive with Ford Motor Company, he led cross-functional teams across three continents as director of global product development operations for Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, and Volvo.
During his time with Ford, based in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, he led engineering and cross-functional teams as vehicle line director, director of manufacturing operations, director of powertrain strategy and planning, and chief engineer powertrain systems engineering.
Educated at Loughborough University in England and INSEAD in France, he is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (CEng, FIMechE).

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Developing Personal Case Studies as a Method for Deepening Lessons in Engineering LeadershipAs a final assignment in a year long graduate program in engineering leadership, studentsare tasked to research and develop a case study and prepare a presentation to the class asmethod for analyzing and assessing leadership skills and characteristics as displayed byhistoric, contemporary or iconic leaders in engineering and technology. This paperdescribes how this exercise enriches the understanding of how leadership emerges andevolves.In the program 14 leadership capabilities are taught and developed through lectures, casestudy and labs augmented by a weekly guest speaker. Students are introduced toassessment techniques such as Myers-Briggs, Thomas-Kilmann conflict management andD.I.S.C, taught classic theories on sources of power, ethics, followership, leading fromthe middle, influence without authority, team dynamics and other themes.With this foundation, vocabulary and awareness of the field of leadership, students aregiven a "share your leadership story” assignment at the end of their final semester. Theyselect an engineering leader of interest, someone renown in a field, industry or companyfor a significant contribution to science or engineering. They research the leader usingbiographies, autobiographies, history books, television documentaries, movies, interviewsor other methods.The assignment is to, first, write a substantive report in which they analyze their subjectusing all of the lenses learned in the class, such as: • What are the key life events and achievements of this leader? In what ways did they stand out? • What made them a great engineer? • Why types of organizational climates did they establish and operate in? • What Myers-Briggs descriptor (ESTP, ENFJ...) do you feel best describes the leader, and why? • What types of conflicts did they experience and how did they cope with them? • Based upon the leadership capabilities taught in the program how do they rank? • What sources of power appear to be the leader's default preferences? • What surprised you?Next the students prepare flip charts that are posted in the classroom and prepare asummary presentation on what they found.To date, reports on over 120 different leaders have been studied and archived. Subjectshave ranged from Sir. Isaac Newton to Thomas Edison, Grace Hopper to Steve Jobs,Elon Musk (of SpaceX fame) to Ratan Tata (founder of the Tata Group), from distanthistory to pulled from today’s headlines, local and international, male and female.This exercise has proven to be powerful, enlightening and revealing. By analyzing aleader from the perspective of what they’ve learned in the course, students begin toappreciate the diversity of how leadership emerges, that most leaders have some type offlaw or shortcoming that they either overcame or were plagued by, and which might actas the role model for how they see themselves.

Klosterman, S. W., & McGonagle, S. T., & Pitts, S. (2015, June), Developing Personal Case Studies as a Method for Deepening Lessons in Engineering Leadership Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23842

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