Curriculum Structure

The Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) curriculum consists of:

  • Two graduate-level courses (Engineering Leadership and Scientific Foundations of Engineering)
  • An industry-sponsored Challenge Project
  • Supplemental leadership development activities

All GEL program requirements are completed over the course of one calendar year. Additional coursework required to earn a Master of Science degree can be completed before, after, or in parallel with the GEL requirements.

Curriculum Elements

As depicted in the graphic above, four elements serve as the foundation for GEL and are integrated into every aspect of the curriculum:

  • Experiential Learning to Enhance Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes
  • Distinguished Speakers
  • Mentoring
  • Cross Cohort Sharing

Built on this foundation, five pillars represent the core elements of the curriculum:

  • Leadership Capabilities
  • Leadership Labs
  • Product Development
  • Scientific Foundations
  • Challenge Project

As indicated by the top portion of the structure, the program curriculum is “capped” by an overarching focus on market, customer, and stakeholder needs.

The Foundation

Four elements serve as the foundation for GEL and are integrated into every aspect of the curriculum:

  • Experiential Learning to Enhance Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes
  • Distinguished Speakers
  • Mentoring
  • Cross Cohort Sharing

Experiential Learning

In concert with Northeastern’s long-standing reputation as a leader in global experiential learning – most notably via its top-ranked cooperative education program – GEL works hand-in-hand with industry partners to develop and grow the proficiency, effectiveness, and dexterity of future leaders.

Gordon Fellow Candidates tackle topics and challenges that directly relate to their professional responsibilities and aim to grow their understanding and appreciation of the organization’s position in the marketplace. They also lead an industry-focused Challenge Project that has significant value to their sponsor organizations.

Distinguished Speakers

Throughout the academic year, GEL brings notable engineering leaders and innovators to campus to share their experience and lessons with Gordon Fellow Candidates. These sessions provide a valuable opportunity for Candidates to engage in candid conversations with seasoned leaders and see various models of engineering leadership at work.


Gordon Fellow Candidates receive guidance and direction from a personalized support team of mentors. Together, this team provides the personal guidance, encouragement, and support to overcome obstacles that may arise during the progression of the project and program.

Mentor Specification

Cross Cohort Sharing

The GEL cohort consists of Candidates with a broad range of academic and professional experience. This diversity enriches classroom discussions and facilitates opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. In exit surveys, Candidates frequently cite the opportunity to learn from other emerging engineering leaders as one of the most important aspects of the GEL experience.

Leadership Capabilities

Much of the GEL curriculum focuses on 14 capabilities that research and experience identify as essential qualities for successful engineering leaders. Each capability is explored in theory and historical context during a class lecture and is enhanced by stories culled from the collective experience of the program faculty.

To visualize the balance of personal strengths and weaknesses, the capabilities are depicted on a polar plot. Candidates begin the program by plotting a self-assessment of their capabilities, in addition to soliciting feedback from their supervisors and peers.

Based on this 360-degree feedback, Candidates gain a better understanding of their current strengths and identify areas for additional development. This diagnostic is repeated at the end of the course to measure growth.

Initiative Assess risk and take the initiative to create a vision and course of action.
Decision-Making Make decisions with information at hand, factoring in risk and uncertainty; take alternative action when necessary.
Responsibility and Urgency to Deliver
Responsibility and Urgency to Deliver Demonstrate determination to accomplish mission in the face of constraints or obstacles. Commit to absolute responsibility to deliver on time; pursue necessary follow-up.
Resourcefulness – Get it Done
Resourcefulness – Get it Done Focus on the tasks at hand with passion, discipline, intensity, and flexibility.
Ethical Actions and Integrity
Ethical Actions and Integrity Adhere to ethical standards and principles. Have the courage to act ethically and with integrity.
Trust and Loyalty
Trust and Loyalty Commit to actions that instill trust, and to the principle that loyalty to the team yields loyalty to the leader and vision. Work to empower the people around you and to make them successful.
Courage Face difficult/high-risk actions head-on.
Vision Create compelling images of the future, identifying what could and should be for new products, systems and enterprises.
Realizing the Vision
Realizing the Vision Design processes and approaches to move from abstraction to invention, innovation and implementation. Lead an organization to plan and deliver a project, exercising solution judgment and critical reasoning.
Inquiry Listen to others in order to genuinely understand their thoughts and feelings. Recognize their ideas may be better than yours.
Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal Skills Respect needs of individuals and the group. Recognize others’ strengths; coach, give feedback, both embody and encourage gracious professionalism.
Communicating and Advocacy
Communicating and Advocacy Be able to clearly explain your point of view or approach to those with differing backgrounds and proactively assess the extent to which you are understood.
Connect – Across Disciplines, Skills and Cultures
Connect – Across Disciplines, Skills and Cultures Appreciate, engage, and connect with those who have different perspectives.
Negotiating and Compromise
Negotiating and Compromise Appreciate the need to identify potential disagreement or conflict; negotiate to find mutually acceptable solutions.

Leadership Labs

Leadership Laboratories supplement each Engineering Leadership class session by enhancing the mastery of topics introduced in lectures.  Through self-assessment, interactive role-playing, and case studies, Candidates explore topics through practical experience.

At the onset of the program, a group definition of leadership is developed and embraced.  Candidates write a personal mission statement and learn the power that comes from living a life with purpose, integrity, and courage.  They begin to hone their view of the world by understanding how judgment, prejudice, and perspective can be biased by their own feelings and experiences.

Building upon these leadership attitudes, the labs next acquaint the Candidates with the tools essential to leading people and teams.

Among them are:

  • Creating a common vision
  • Planning a project
  • Organizing and inspiring a team
  • Developing goals
  • Assigning roles
  • Setting expectations
  • Providing feedback
  • Negotiation
  • Decision-making
  • Conflict resolution
  • Communication and presentation skills

Finally, the impacts of the business, cultural, and societal environment in which Candidates will lead are explored.

These include the ability to:

  • Stay situationally aware in complex and dynamic organizational and business domains
  • Account for cultural differences
  • Maintain sound ethics
  • Manage up and down
  • Successfully maneuver throughout the extended enterprise

Labs are performance based and Candidates receive direct feedback at the end of each session.  Labs are held both inside and outside the classroom, including a full-day Field Leadership Reaction Course (FLRC) exercise at nearby Camp Edwards.

Product Development

As a key component to leading engineering teams in the implementation of products and processes to the marketplace, GEL introduces engineering leadership in the context of the end-to-end product development process.  The framework used to drive this portion of the program leads the Candidates step-by-step through a structured, generic product development process.

In each phase, Candidates are tasked to look within their organization for representative procedures analogous to those covered in class, such as:

  • Interviewing a customer
  • Requirements management
  • Deriving specifications
  • Concept development
  • System and detailed product design
  • User interfaces
  • Design for manufacturing
  • Supply chain management
  • Project management

Exercises aligned with the topics serve to make the Candidates familiar with the detailed flow of product development. They learn that product development is not accomplished through a sterile sequence of separate events.  Rather, it encompasses a collection of overlapping activities and interdependent series of people-centered processes where authority, decision-making and boundary conditions are fluid and dynamic.

The techniques are tailored to equip the Candidate with tools that can be immediately applied in the formation, planning, implementation and completion of their Challenge Project. Interspersed through the product development portion of the program are deep dives into qualitative and quantitative methods that improve group problem solving.

These include:

  • Application and practice of Quality Function Deployment (QFD)
  • Deming’s “Plan, Do, Check, Adjust”
  • Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Design of experiments
  • Change management

The final portion of the product development lecture covers broader topics, including:

  • Systems engineering
  • Systems thinking
  • Finance for engineers
  • Politics
  • How complexity, context, the corporation, industry, society, and world influence product evolution

All material in the product development portion of the program is presented within an envelope of the overall product lifecycle, continuously reinforcing the key leadership skill that thinking about things at the front-end and choices made early in the life of the product have the most leverage and greatest impact on the outcome and success of the project.

Scientific Foundations

The Scientific Foundations of Engineering course derives from one basic principle: in order to be a good engineering leader, one must first be a good engineer.

Through this portion of the curriculum, GEL breaks away from more traditional treatments of leadership and management to concentrate on the scientific aptitude required to successfully lead technical teams and projects.

The course has three overarching goals:

  1. It refreshes Candidates on the first principles of the main engineering disciplines that they are likely to face when leading cross-functional teams. This enables them to ask the right questions and make informed decisions, even when faced with information from outside their given domain.
  2. It strengthens Candidates’ ability to leverage scientific analysis to understand problems and make decisions, often under significant time pressure.
  3. It reinforces Candidates’ confidence that they can continually learn, understand, and master the science underpinning new and emerging technologies throughout their careers.

The course covers a broad range of topics, including: principles of mechanics and mechanics of materials, wave physics, quantum physics, statistical and thermal physics, fluid physics, and Maxwell’s equations and constitutive relations.

For those in the master’s degree tracks, additional technical courses are selected to meet their specific needs.  By combining these with Scientific Foundations, Candidates increase their own competency in the broad domain of engineering.

Challenge Project

Every aspect of the GEL curriculum is grounded in real-world application, as is demonstrated by the significant emphasis placed on the Challenge Project.

Through this transformational experience in project-based learning, Candidates directly apply the concepts and techniques learned in the classroom to leading a project of significant value to their organizations. Unlike a traditional academic thesis that focuses on research, the Challenge Project focuses on product/process development and delivery with an emphasis on customers and stakeholders.

For industrial sponsors, the Challenge Project is the mechanism through which a product or process of value and impact is developed on behalf of the organization. For Candidates, it is the opportunity to expand their knowledge of a technical domain and develop self-confidence under real-world time, business, performance, and quality pressure.

While Candidates pursue a very broad range of Challenge Projects, they must all meet three primary requirements:

  • Market Value.  The project must be able to identify an opportunity with quantifiable value to the sponsoring organization in terms of meeting or satisfying a market and customer need.  Each project may have unique descriptions of the market or customer, including internal customers, but they must be identified and understood.
  • Technology/Scientific/Engineering depth.  The project must challenge the candidate in the engineering domain, where novel, innovative, or unique knowledge and skills are learned and exercised.
  • Leadership.  The project must represent something that is a true challenge, with clear stretch, importance, and opportunity to establish and refine leadership skills.

During the program, Candidates transition from an initial plan to a complete project proposal, including schedule, cost estimates, technology strategy, and anticipated value to the sponsoring company.

Upon completion, Candidates write a formal, thesis equivalent report that describes the project, results, and final status. They also present a defense of the project for final approval by a faculty committee.

Market, Customer and Stakeholder Focus

GEL “caps” the curriculum structure by emphasizing that the objective of the engineering leader is to develop products that satisfy the collective needs of a market, customers, and their organization’s stakeholders.

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The National Academy of Engineering awarded the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership the prestigious 2015 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.

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