Thomas Walter Center prepares students for global innovation

Published: Jun 13, 2024 9:00 AM

By Dustin Duncan

The Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management at Auburn University prepares engineering and business students for product innovation and business models worldwide.

The Thomas Walter Center (TWC) was established in 1989 through a $2.6 million gift from the Ross Perot Foundation in honor of his friend and business associate, Thomas Walter, who graduated from Auburn in 1955 with a degree in engineering physics. The TWC trains engineering and business students to work collaboratively at the interface between the disciplines. In addition to entrepreneurial skills, students gain valuable experience forming and effectively working on and across teams.

 The center’s mission is accomplished through various programs, most visibly the Business-Engineering-Technology (BET) curriculum minor for undergraduate business and engineering students. The two-year minor provides students with the education and training to develop new products, business models and plans for start-up companies while working in a team environment.

Throughout the years, the BET program has evolved from teaching business skills to engineering students to product innovation while merging business and engineering principles for students from both disciplines.

The BET program now has an international component with many students having the opportunity to study abroad in Germany with Richard Sesek, the Tim Cook Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering or Spain with Jorge Valenzuela, the Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

John L. Evans, the center’s director and Charles D. Miller Chair Professor in industrial and systems engineering, said the study abroad program allows students to design products with real international clients and exposes them to global markets that could vastly differ from the U.S.

“The experience that our students get by understanding that there are more people out there than the areas and markets that surround us is invaluable,” Evans said. “Students really get an interesting blend of international product design, international intellectual property concerns and a chance to propose a product for international markets.”  

Students complete the first year of their minor in the classroom at Auburn and spend the summer of their second year overseas working on international product design.

The Thomas Walter Center also offers a Master of Engineering Management program comprising both on-campus and online/outreach students. The outreach program allows those currently working in an engineering-related field to expand their career potential by earning a degree while remaining employed full-time. Students are encouraged to bring their real-world experience into the classroom and often apply what they learn in class to their workplaces in real-time.

The degree is the first of its kind offered in Alabama and is open to individuals working in the aerospace, biosystems, chemical, civil, computer science, software, electrical, industrial engineering, systems, materials, mechanical engineering and wireless domains.

With more than 100 students actively matriculating through the program, Evans said the program has been successful.

“It's not a general engineering management degree. It's specialized in systems engineering, manufacturing, safety, ergonomics and healthcare,” Evans said. “It also provides valuable leadership insights and skills to students who plan to be in leadership positions and manage engineering-based teams.”

The Thomas Walter Center also offers fellowship opportunities each semester through the Tom and Jean Walter ABM Fellowship, funded by a donation from the center’s namesake. The fellowship supports undergraduate engineering students interested in product design and innovation to accelerate progression toward a master’s degree with an emphasis on product innovation.

Media Contact: Dustin Duncan ,, 334-844-2326

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