In the mid-1970s, Arthur E. Humphrey, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), posed a very basic question to the SEAS Board of Overseers: What should be the future of a modest-size engineering school on an Ivy League liberal arts campus?
The Overseers, who included senior executives from a number of leading technology-based firms, studied the question and recommended that, rather than try to be like an institute of technology, Penn Engineering should build bridges to other disciplines and reach out to the University’s outstanding professional schools.
Joseph Bordogna, then the undergraduate dean of Penn Engineering, worked with his counterpart at Wharton to devise a curriculum that bridged the two schools. Their proposal gave birth to what is now known as the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology (M&T Program), the granddaddy of dual degree programs at Penn.
A University search committee tapped William Hamilton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Management and Technology in the Wharton School and Penn Engineering, as director of the budding program, a position he has held since 1978. One of the cofounders of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and of Wharton’s Department of Decision Sciences (now called the Operations and Information Management Department), Hamilton came to the job well-equipped, with two chemical engineering degrees from Penn, an MBA from Wharton, and a Ph.D. in applied economics from the London School of Economics.
Hamilton says the M&T Program integrates the full undergraduate degree requirements of the Wharton and Engineering schools, and attracts the best and the brightest students. He says the program has long been one of the toughest to get into at Penn because students must be admitted to both Penn Engineering and Wharton.
“[The students] need to be pretty good,” he says. “They need to be outstanding, as a matter of fact.” The program admits 50-55 students per year.
Students who excel academically can often have great difficulty choosing a major because they have flourished in so many subjects and have various competing interests. Ken Glass was one such student in the late 1970s. In high school, he liked science and business, and couldn’t decide on a major when he enrolled at Penn.
“When I became aware of the M&T Program, it was pretty easy for me to say, ‘Wow, I can study both,’” he says. “That’s exactly why I chose to enroll in the program—the ability to learn about both disciplines and not have to choose one over the other.”
Glass, a 1982 alumnus, was a part of the M&T Program’s first official graduating class. The program has more than 2,000 alumni—all of whom have benefited from Hamilton’s guidance. Graduates have entered a medley of fields, holding technology positions at high tech firms and financial investment positions in the business world. A handful of graduates have gone on to medical school or become professors after receiving their Ph.Ds. in business or engineering.
“They go wherever their passions take them,” Hamilton says. “That’s the beauty of the program. They have so many choices.”
Glass held various positions at Microsoft before starting his own business in 2000. He says he has put his M&T training to good use; when in technical positions, he says he is able to use his business lens to view projects to determine if they make sense financially. When serving in business roles, he says he is able to look at the decisions from the technical side, “understanding the reality of the technological requirements underneath.
“Personally, I’ve benefited tremendously from being able to use both disciplines,” he says.
This November, M&T Program alumni will gather on campus for a 35th anniversary celebration and to bid farewell to Hamilton, who is retiring in the spring of 2015.
Glass is chair of the M&T 35th Anniversary Planning Committee and says the program’s generous alums have expressed their profound gratitude to Hamilton for leading the program and creating the opportunity for them to succeed.
“It’s really a cohesive education,” he says. “It’s a cohesive group of people. We all stay in touch with our peers, with our alumni across generations. We all benefit from that. He really created the entire ecosystem for success, and that’s a tremendous thing.”
Hamilton, at Penn since 1967, says he expects the M&T Program to continue to offer a variety of great opportunities, maintain its high quality, and produce spectacular graduates.
“I often say that we turn out really extraordinary graduates because we bring in extraordinary freshmen and we don’t mess them up too much while they’re here,” he says. “It’s kind of like recruiting for a sports team. If you bring in the right talent, it’s going to do very well.”
Originally published on May 8, 2014