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Agile education: Change and management in engineering

Bill DeYoung



Dr. Paul Schnitzler (photo by Bill DeYoung)


Meeting the demands of business requires innovative thinking from educators – agility is now the rarity factor that sets the bar. In our series Agile Education, we’ll explore some of the ways bay area educators and employers are keeping up with the speed and the requirements of the new economy.

Part 3 in a series.


Paul Schnitzler teaches in the MS in Engineering Management program at the University of South Florida. He’s a Ph.D. with a five-star electronics engineering resume, with worldwide successes including satellite communications, innovations in video, undersea communications (he led the team whose work led to the first fiber optic telephone cables across the Atlantic), semi-conductors, software and more.

He also taught Venture Business and Entrepreneurship at Fudan University, Shanghai, China, in the Executive MBA program of the Center for American Studies.

“I worked my entire career in the industry until 13 years ago, when I was offered an opportunity here at USF,” Schnitzler says. “I took it and was going to do it for two or three years. And now it’s 13, so clearly I like it.”

What Schnitzler also likes – a whole lot – is helping people. “I found that the challenges of leadership and management were much more interesting than the technology stuff,” he explains.

His courses in the MS program include Management of Technological Change, Work Design, Motivation and Productivity, and Creativity in Technology. He calls these the “soft courses” in the curriculum. “Soft” but just as necessary as the scientific education.

“I’m teaching psychology to engineers,” he explains. “I teach engineers to become leaders.”

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Even the most brilliant engineers don’t develop management skills by osmosis. “And if they don’t have the stuff that I’m teaching them, they’re not going to succeed in their engineering.”

These are key topics in Schnitztler’s TEDx talk, “Change and Leadership,” and it’s the subject of his book, Lead Change Without Fear: Using the YES I AM Solution.

At USF, Schnitzler’s students cover a vast array of age and experience. “We have a large number of working engineers, and people that are already managers,” he says. “The age range of my students will be up to 60. I have 24-year-olds and up.”

With retirement perhaps a year away, he’s looking ahead to the next chapter in his professional life. As a public speaker, on motivation and change in the business world. “The challenge of getting people to be productive – to want to be productive – is what I like,” he says.

Here, in Dr. Schnitzler’s words, is the whole issue in a nutshell:

If you’re in a company, and they decide they’re going to do some important change, and you’re going to be affected be it – there’s a good chance you’re going to be fearful about the situation. And your being fearful is going to have you be counter-productive to the thing being successful. You’re going to spend more time talking about it, and worrying about it, than doing the job that needs to get done.

That’s what all the books tell you. There are thousands of books on change management on Amazon.

What the manager needs to do is find a way to help you become comfortable, and want to help make this work. The question is, why don’t managers do that?

What the books tell you to do is: If you’re working for me, and I’m going to make a change that you’ll be affected by, I give you some power over how you are affected by it. Let you help design the change, give you authority over parts of the change. If I give some power over your life, you’ll work with me.

But people don’t do it. Why? Those 30,000-plus books don’t tell you. What they don’t tell you is, the manager who’s introducing the change is also fearful. If it doesn’t work, it’s his neck. In fact, he may be more fearful than any of his workers.

I submit that the last thing a person who’s fearful is going to do is give up any control over his life. But if I don’t give over some control to you, you’re not going to do the job I need you to do.

What you have to do is lead change without fear. The management fear.

So what’s the next step? Read his book, Schnitzler says. Or listen to one of his talks. As a manager, “you’ve got to address it. If you don’t address it, you’re dead.”

Paul Schnitzler can be reached through paulschnitzler.com.















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