BOZEMAN – As a recent graduate from the Montana State University Department of Physics, David Walsh was enthralled with researching rare earth crystals in the often dimly lighted optics lab of professor Rufus Cone.
Now a graduate student in MSU’s new Professional Master of Science and Engineering Management program, Walsh jokes that he is happy to be out in the light again as he studies the business and entrepreneurial practices required to run a lab or a technology start-up.
“It was a great experience working with Dr. Cone,” Walsh said. “But I also came to realize that I didn’t want to be in the (optics) lab for the rest of my life. It’s dark in there.”
Walsh and fellow Department of Physics graduate Tom Weas are the first two recipients of the Hutcheson Emerging Fellows Award, earning them each $50,000 for a two-year program that includes a 30-credit master’s degree combining courses from the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the College of Engineering and the College of Letters and Science.
Hutcheson fellows are also awarded an unpaid internship with a technology company in Bozeman. The internships focus on business systems and marketing and are coordinated through the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC).
Ralph Hutcheson, a 1954 MSU mechanical engineering graduate and founder of Scientific Materials Corporation and one of the founders of S2 Corporation, established the scholarships. It was Hutcheson who, in 1960 as an employee of Union Carbide Corporation, used synthetic ruby molecules to grow the crystal that was integrated into the world’s first laser. When Hutcheson founded Scientific Materials in 1989, it became an important player in a growing hub of optics companies in Bozeman that highlighted MSU’s research. To date, more than 30 companies in the optics tech field have been launched in Bozeman.
It made sense that the first two Hutcheson fellows would honor that tradition, said Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU’s College of Engineering.
“The optics hub we have here in Bozeman is a great example of what happens when you combine the entrepreneurial know-how with the innovative and cutting-edge research coming out of a land-grant university,” Gunnink said. “That is the idea at the heart of the Professional Master of Science and Engineering Management program.”
Although Weas said he considered pursuing his doctorate in physics, his family has a strong entrepreneurial history and he wanted to try a career in the sales and marketing side of the science and technology sector.
Hutcheson is a living legend, with a proven track record both as a scientist and an entrepreneur, said Weas.
“I feel really honored, not just to be picked as a Hutcheson fellow, but also because Ralph (Hutcheson) took time to take David (Walsh) and me out for lunch,” Weas said. “We talked about what it means to be a scientist working as an entrepreneur, as well as what it means to be giving back to the community of (optics technology) start-ups that have become an important part of Bozeman’s economy.”
For Weas, a 25-year-old Bozeman resident who landed a job during his senior year at MSU as a sales and service representative for the Bozeman-based optical laser technology company Altos Photonics, the PMSEM program was a natural fit.
“I think in the long run, it opens up more options for me,” Weas said. “I can still return to physics and pursue a Ph.D., but I’ll have more skills to bring to any projects I work on.”
That is precisely what Hutcheson had in mind when he created the scholarship.
“What we leave out in the science and engineering disciplines is the real-life experience that comes when you’re in business – legal, accounting, personnel, business management,” Hutcheson said. “Most scientists know these things are there but they don’t know enough about them. It took me three attempts to start a business and to run it. There was a big learning curve about what you can do and what you can’t do.”
At the core of the PMSEM program are foundation courses in business and technical management relevant to today’s business world and valued by industry. Students can then choose their elective coursework based on what science or engineering topics are most relevant to their career goals.
To accommodate working professionals, the coursework can be done exclusively online. The program also offers the option to enroll for a 12-credit graduate certificate.
“Our instructors are tailoring their three credit integrated course to give technical people the knowledge and perspective that allow them to add more value to an organization,” said Kregg Aytes, dean of MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship. “Building on the creativity and technical expertise of the students, we help them the learn how to lead a firm, finance a new venture, and market a product or service. The diverse backgrounds of the students also allow them to learn new ways of thinking from each other. The result is a more well-rounded professional.”
Lisa Brown, PMSEM program coordinator with MSU Extended University, said the PMSEM program now has 21 students enrolled, with about half doing their coursework exclusively online. They come from across the state and beyond, Brown said.
“We are pleased the multidisciplinary program has been so well received by our students,” Brown said. “It’s only in its first year, but we’ve continued to grow, and the colleges supporting the program have been very responsive in accommodating incoming students with both distance and on-campus learning opportunities.”
Walsh, a 22-year-old from Billings, said he chose MSU over several other universities because he sensed that kind of responsiveness to the needs of science and tech professionals from the new program. He was also drawn to its entrepreneurial emphasis, as exemplified by Hutcheson’s story.
“My goal is the same goal Mr. Hutcheson had – I’d love to run my own company someday,” Walsh said.
Contact: Lisa Brown, (406) 994-3062, firstname.lastname@example.org.