MOT Student Uses New Knowledge, Skills to Gain Promotion and Push Innovation | Technological Leadership Institute
Graduate school wasn’t something M.S. in Management of Technology (MOT) class of 2018 student Mary Pichotta committed to immediately after college. She didn’t want “a degree for the sake of a degree, nor a title for the sake of a title,” she says. Instead, she wanted to get her feet wet working as an engineer and, as her experience grew, so did her ambition.
While she initially was pre-med, the Minnetonka native says she worked on exploring her strengths and weaknesses as an undergraduate. She decided to follow in her family’s footsteps (three generations of engineers all hailing from the University of Minnesota!) by earning a Bachelor of Materials Science and Engineering. She enjoyed the personalized attention, smaller class sizes and all-encompassing curriculum.
“My undergraduate program was actually similar to MOT in the sense that you know everyone in your class,” said Pichotta, who is enjoying the cohort-based model of the two-year graduate program.
While working on her bachelor’s, she had heard about the MOT master’s program at the Technological Leadership Institute from a friend who had taken an undergraduate course taught by TLI’s Gemini Chair Kirk Froggatt.
The program stayed on her radar even as she graduated and went on to work night shifts as a manufacturing engineer at Seagate Technology, a global hard drive company. In one year, she was promoted to engineering manager, a role she held for four years; but as time went on, she sought more cross-functional and team-based work.
“While it was a good experience and I learned to think on my feet early on in my career, I was ready for the next challenge,” said Pichotta, who sought roles that combined leadership and technical manufacturing.
She got just that in her next role as an applications engineer at 3M. She was responsible for the entire lifecycle of a product and, most recently, focused on one customer to cover the line of privacy and front-surface display materials, such as light enhancement film.
“I worked on development programs in the lab, with business team on claims and sales of new products, and I got to interface with customers,” said Pichotta. She spent three years in this role and it was during this time she began to seriously explore graduate school options.
“Not only was the role customer-facing, but I was also interacting with the business team much more regularly,” she said. “I started wondering about the business terms they were throwing out and how I could understand them better than just doing a Google search. I could learn some of it on my own or by asking questions from colleagues, but I wanted formalized training to eventually move into a business role.”
She started envisioning herself as an account manager or business development manager and, increasingly, formal education made sense.
One option was an MBA, but she says a big deciding factor was that the MOT was much more technical and that all the MOT alumni she spoke to – several who worked with her – spoke passionately about their experience in the program.
“MOT is a unique degree and I didn’t want something that so many people already had,” said Pichotta. “It has the technical aspect, a business aspect and it really stresses leadership. It’s a cohort-type program, which for me was a really big deal, which I didn’t see in other technology management programs in the Twin Cities. That networking has been really important to me.”
She applied to the program after attending an info session, and her manager strongly supported her decision to advance her skills and her division.
“My degree approval required me to put together a detailed career map,” said Pichotta. “I had to outline my interests and goals; how MOT would help me achieve them; and how it would all help the company as well. I knew that I wanted to try out account management or business development – roles beyond being an applications engineer in the lab.”
That diligence combined with the skills she’s gained in MOT so far helped her land her latest promotion at 3M a year before completing the program. She now works in business development and imaging (in the same division).
“The whole process of applying to the program, being in the program and applying what I learned to work helped prepare me for this (new) role,” said Pichotta. “It’s been a constant process of professional development, where sometimes it would progress upwards and sometimes it would sit flat for a while, but all of it was in preparation for the next move.”
She praised her classmates for how much they have helped each other grow.
“People that you talk to in MOT, there’s this passion for technology,” said Pichotta. “For example, when we come to class to talk about a case study, we have phenomenal discussions. The cohort truly cares and they’re passionately invested in learning.”
As she’s transitioning into her new role, she says she is glad she has another year in MOT to continue learning and bringing back new ideas to her team.
“Now that I’m in this new role, I can go to my cohort and seek advice for how to tackle new challenges – and this then leads to a great discussion and invites others in as well, so we’re constantly helping each other.”
That team mentality has helped Pichotta keep going through the challenging curriculum.
“It’s not undoable but it is challenging, so you have to be serious about the commitment,” said Pichotta. “And as much as I get tired, I know there’s a team that’s relying on me, and when they’re also facing challenges and still show up and give it their all, that keeps me going.”
Her cohort has been a constant source of inspiration and personal development, too.
“The perspectives, the different industries, different places people are in their careers – all of that has been very eye opening for different approaches to think and go outside of our comfort zones,” said Pichotta.
She holds the same reverence for the faculty, who provide engaging and relevant content.
“When the class and professors are excited and engaged, the class goes by fast, we have great discussions and everybody wants to do the projects that don’t even feel like work and we look forward to reconvening,” said Pichotta. “Dr. Tarun Soni does an amazing job at that. No matter how prepared you come, you leave surprised with all the new points of view and possibilities, all with merit, that you discover.”
She says this has been an important lesson, especially having come from an engineering background, where concepts are often seen as black or white, right or wrong.
“Through this program and job growth, I learned the world isn’t black and white and there’s a lot of gray space, and that’s definitely true in the business world,” said Pichotta. “For technical people like me, that can be intimidating. But being able to look at a problem and see more possibilities based on limited information has been really useful at work, school and in life.”
She says she’s been able to apply this outside the classroom at work to help her division think more innovatively about how they can develop products customers will enjoy more.
“I understand and come up with a value proposition for a new product differently now,” said Pichotta. “Previously, as a lab person, this would be quantifying a few performance metrics of a product. In reality, a customer may not understand or want those things. Now I think about value propositions in more in depth.”
But that learning won’t stop after MOT.
“I don’t have the expectation that I will stop learning after earning my degree,” said Pichotta. “You need to be able to adapt, constantly acquire new skills because technology changes fast, and traditional job functions have also changed. You used to have siloed jobs without much interaction, but the expectation from tech companies now is that people be more cross functional. MOT is great for that because it combines business, psychology and leadership.”
Her message to professionals considering a graduate program is, “There are people who go to graduate school because they want a title, and that’s fine, but MOT is unique and intense. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but remember you and your cohort are in it together. Give it your all and do it with passion.”
To learn more about the M.S. in Management of Technology, be sure to attend an upcoming information session or set up an individual appointment with a member of our admissions team.
MOT is a unique degree, and I didn’t want something that so many people already had. It has the technical aspect, a business aspect and it really stresses leadership.