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Milwaukee School of Education:

Taking A Hands-On Education Approach

Its team teaching style helps Milwaukee School of Engineering stand apart from its competition. Written by Kevin Doyle Produced by Stephen Marino


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hen German immigrant Oscar Werwath founded what was then known as the School of Engineering in 1903 to address a growing need for electrical engineers in greater Milwaukee, he implemented a teaching style that remains in place today. Dr. John Walz, the institution’s fifth president, explains. “There was a huge need for electrical engineers at that time and he started by training them. He believed in a very, very hands-on approach to education. He taught the application first and to this day, we stick to this applicationoriented model,” says Walz, who came to the university in July 2016. Today Milwaukee School of Engineering’s campus covers 22 acres in the city’s East Town neighborhood. It has about 150 full-time faculty members and its enrollment of approximately 2,700 students includes around 180 master’s degree candidates. In addition to a wide range of Engineering programs, MSOE also offers degrees in Nursing, Business, Mathematics, Computer Science and UX. “Our hands-on approach is one of the things that distinguishes us from others like us. When you’re the only small private technically-focused university in the state of Wisconsin we feel it’s our approach of how we


prepare students, regardless of degree, to be successful in the work place. That is our distinction and that is how we compete,” Walz asserts.

Team Approach “When you’re a small university, you wear multiple hats. I believe in hiring a great team, empowering them and letting them do their job. I believe we have a great leadership team,” Walz says. Walz brings an intriguing set of credentials to his position. After working in the oil industry for several years, he pursued his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and entered the world

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“(Founder Oscar Werwath) believed in a very, very hands-on approach to education. He taught the application first and to this day, we stick to this application-oriented model.” - President Dr. John Walz

of academia in 1992 as an assistant professor at his alma mater, Tulane University. Before arriving at MSOE, Walz also taught at Yale University and Virginia Tech and was most recently serving as Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky. One of his first initiatives was the implementation of a five-year strategic plan designed to enhance campus life with multiple infrastructure improvements. “I make time to be strategic. The leadership team under me helped to set a direction, a strategy. I’m also involved with the daily grind of budgets and we have a great Board of Regents that I have a ton of involvement with,” Walz said. “We went through the strategic process and completed that about two years ago.”

Campus Construction Private donors funded MSOE’s approximately $90 million investment in recent capital investment projects, requiring no outlay of operating

funds. The chair of MSOE’s Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management Department and the president of a Milwaukee architectural firm with which the school has a long-standing relationship assisted in screening RFPs during a competitive bidding process, resulting in a different general contractor for each of the projects. “We have a lot of wonderful friends, alumni and donors here who have made a lot of great things possible that are important to us,” Walz says. The centerpiece is unquestionably the $34 million Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall situated in the center of campus that opened in September 2019. Mortenson Construction oversaw the project. The philanthropic gift from alumni Dwight Diercks and his wife is one of 19 Milwaukee Business Journal Real Estate Award recipients for 2020. It also was named a 2019 Top Project by The Daily Reporter. Students were involved throughout the process, taking advantage of that


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hands-on teaching approach. “A lot of local construction management companies are populated by MSOE alums and we used students’ input as much as we could as to what they would want in the computational science building,” Walz states. “So it’s a very studentfriendly building with lots of study space. Getting their voice as to what type of amenities they’d like was very important and we’re doing the same through student focus groups on other projects .” The $37 million upgrade and expansion


of the university’s largest residence hall, formerly Roy W. Johnson Hall, will be re-named the Hermann Viets Tower in honor of MSOE’s fourth president. It will add 48 rooms, increasing capacity in the 13-story building by about 100 students, and add a number of twostory collaborative academic hubs. Additionally, Walz says a $7 million project in the Campus Center Building “created a new dining experience for students. The dining area is truly seen as a campus-wide dining option, rather than a ‘dorm-only’ cafeteria.” The Viets Tower project is being led

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by VJS Construction Services, while the Robert Spitzer Dining Commons project was led by CG Schmidt.

The Attraction of MSOE Let’s start with location. The university is three blocks from the Fiserv Forum, home to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. And the city was due to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention until the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on those plans. “We’re in a growing, vibrant part of the city. It’s a safe area, we’re investing in our living spaces and it’s a very walk-


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“A lot of local construction management companies are populated by MSOE alums and we used students’ input as much as we could as to what they would want in the computational science building,.” - President Dr. John Walz

able campus, easily from one end to the other. Everybody knows each other,” Walz, adding that he lives “right in the middle of campus.” MSOE’s committed faculty and average class size of 20 students make for an ideal learning environment. “We attract faculty who want to focus on education and we have really bright, hard-working students. It’s a very close-knit community and people enjoy working here. Those are the benefits we have,” Walz says. He advises students to take full advantage of the opportunity before them. “College is a wonderful time of your life. You don’t want to waste it by just sitting in your room, watching TV or playing video games. Obviously you have to take care of your academics but it’s also a wonderful chance to expand your horizon and to make connections. You never know who you’re going to run into down the road,” he concludes.

*** Ed. Note: MSOE resumed oncampus classes for the Fall Quarter, offering hybrid instruction. Inperson activities are focused on laboratory and application-oriented experiences. Course content and material to complement in-person


Company Name: Milwaukee School of Education Country: United States Industry: Education Est: 1903 President: John Walz Website: www.msoe.edu


1025 N Broadway Milwaukee, WI 53202 P: (414) 277-7300 E: walz@msoe.edu

Profile for Construction Feature Article

Milwaukee School of Engineering  

Milwaukee School of Engineering