Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Kaileif Mitchell. I have worked in the engineering industry for about six years. I have a unique background that covers several different industries: technology, security, retail, medical, customer service, and business. As a sailor in the U.S. Navy Reserve , I have worked in electronics, avionics, and management in a number of different communities and units across the country and around the world. I am married to an amazingly supportive wife, and am a father of four. We spend our free time volunteering at our church and in our community.
Why did you decide to pursue your M.Eng. in engineering management?
I decided to return to school just over a year ago. At the time, I had life and work experience, but what I didn’t have was a four-year degree. I was working as an engineer with an associate degree in avionics and aviation electro-mechanical technologies. My then-fiancée suggested I use my GI Bill to finish my degree, and I graduated cum laude from Liberty University.
I decided to stay in school — the effects of the coronavirus pandemic allowed me to work from home, and I still had time left on my GI Bill, and I applied to several programs. Knowing Vanderbilt’s reputation in engineering, hearing the decision that I had been accepted to the M.Eng. program was surreal.
Why did you decide to pursue your degree online?
An online program fits so well for someone that works full time. By the time I was accepted, the coronavirus pandemic was restricting travel for much of the U.S. The ability to attend Vanderbilt without relocating was a very attractive feature. Being able to present the same caliber of education to your online students as your in-person students is something this institution puts a high value on.
Why did you choose Vanderbilt?
I appreciate the ability to stay at work and pursue higher education simultaneously. Specifically, this program is one of the best online programs I have experienced because there is both asynchronous and “in-person” class time. The live class time allows you to build relationships with members of your cohort and classmates. Relational experiences and networking are other components of this program which closely align with Vanderbilt’s reputation as a paramount institution of higher education.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your online education experience?
The networking is amazing. Meeting people and sharing this experience makes it feel like I have known some of my classmates for years. The ability to work closely with one another doesn’t end when the Zoom lights go down and everyone logs out. The people in this program genuinely care about everyone else’s success and support each other.
What has been your favorite course so far?
I enjoyed Program and Project Management Strategies and Strategic Technology Management, but my favorite is ENGM6200 Technology Forecasting. It has been really interesting to look analytically at potential technologies that may exist in the future and learn methods to forecast them. It is not something I currently have to do in my industry, but I am extremely grateful to have learned it for future application.
With which professor or faculty member have you most enjoyed working?
I have really enjoyed working with almost all of my professors. In particular, I appreciate that Dr. Kenneth Pence, Julie Birdsong, Andreas Garstenauer and Lori Ferranti each have different teaching methods, but their personalities still come through. These four would be my favorite professors in any other university, because they all present their material in a lighthearted manner that helps students feel at home in class, which maximizes the level of learning and engagement in class.
How has the virtual campus helped you collaborate with faculty and classmates?
I have attended online school at five institutions and in six different programs or areas of study. The platform Vanderbilt utilizes is hands-down the best I have experienced. Collaborative efforts become easy to manage with face-to-face and other interactions through multiple technological platforms.
Tell us about a project you’ve worked on or research you’ve conducted as part of your course work.
My favorite project was in Strategic Technology Management. We suggested topics we thought were interesting, and my team completed a 70-page strategy paper on the benefits of creating a fully autonomous vehicle capable of replacing divers for deep-sea work. In just seven weeks, we created something I thought previously well beyond my capability.
What advice would you give to incoming students or those considering this program?
I would tell them to stay open to different leaning and teaching techniques, be present in class, and learn where to look and who to ask, more so than how to repeat what’s in the book. Understand that in most cases the concepts and ideas are the important part. I would leave them with two quotes that reflect who I am as a leader and as an engineer. The first is from Margaret Mead, who was famously quoted as saying, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” The second is from the author Jules Vern, who proposed that, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”