Business Law…For Engineers?

Why a Course that Surprises Students Often Becomes Their Favorite

Business law and engineering managers – sounds like odd bedfellows, but the experiences and knowledge engineering students take away from their Business Law class speak for themselves.

This course is a key part of the core curriculum for the Master of Engineering in Engineering Management online program at the University of Louisville. When students review their degree map, this course is the one that surprises them the most. But for many, it’s also the one they end up loving most … the class that sticks with them for years to come.

The course is taught by Rachel Hansen, an attorney for more than 20 years. Rachel was in private practice for three years, then served as a prosecutor for five more. Her experience with the judicial process led her to teach pre-law and justice administration for online programs, a path that eventually led her to UofL.

“Engineers are probably my favorite group to teach to,” she says. “I love teaching graduate students for starts. And I love seeing how an engineer’s mind processes legal problems.”

Many students say it’s a treat to break the routine and focus on law instead of strict engineering, especially considering the diverse career paths that bring them to the program. Engineering management online students come from healthcare, the armed forces, private contractor firms and many other fields. It’s a program with broad application and a flexible focus.

Rachel tunes into that need for flexibility with every student she supports. “It’s more to me than typing back and forth,” she says. “I strive to build a relationship. I want to find out where my students want to go and what they want to learn, to ask questions, to get to know them and what they envision for their career.”

“Some students are looking for an internal promotion.  Others are going into self-employment of some type. They have different paths and many different perspectives.”

While Business Law may not seem like a standard engineering course, the importance of the class soon becomes evident. “Many students have interacted at some point with a compliance department,” says Rachel.“ When they look at their work experience through the legal perspective, they figure out why compliance is such a big deal in the industry, whether it’s about business structure, taxes, regulations or product liability. Plus, many of my students have a side business or a franchise. They tell me how much this class helped them achieve the dream of owning their own business or becoming a private engineering contractor. This knowledge gives them confidence and it prepares them for the next step.”

So what makes the course so unique? “For one thing, it’s very different than what they are used to,” Rachel notes. “They’re used to concrete terms—to saying ‘here’s the answer.’ This course challenges them to think more flexibly … to focus on the grey area … to debate and analyze, and take part in spirited online discussions with their peers.”

Sample topics discussed in the class include debates over court rulings: a review of the ruling and analysis of the how the students might rule differently. Much of the emphasis is on taking legal concepts and applying them to real work situations, including ethical scenarios.

The final exam offers students a chance to read and process a business profile, a case study. They must then identify the legal issues facing the company and, from their own perspective as an attorney, advise the “client” of the laws that are at work and how they should proceed. They are in the driver’s seat, delivering the legal advice, and are assessed on how the information they deliver was absorbed and processed.

“I’ve taught online before but I’m struck by the level of dedication I see from engineering management graduate students at UofL,” Rachel says. “They’re working full time jobs. Many have families. Some are even deployed overseas. Yet I’m so impressed with the quality of their work and how much effort they put into it. Students even take the initiative to review state law in their own state versus Kentucky law. They are so engaged and it’s awesome.”

“Engineering students have changed the way I teach online. I am much more engaged than I ever have before. I love to write recommendation letters. I even take phone calls to discuss LSAT scores and review law school options. I feel very engaged and connected with my students. I absolutely love teaching Business Law. Many times, a former student will reach out to me to let me know how they’ve applied what I’ve taught them in their own career … it’s the best feeling in the world!”

To learn more about the Master of Engineering in Engineering Management 100% online program at UofL visit the program pages.