Muhammad Arshed Baig has made a personal and professional goal to save time and money for himself and for others. Shaving $6 million off the cost of a billion-dollar construction project ranks among his top career accomplishments. Completing the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) online program at Arkansas State University (A-State) is right up there, too.
Baig knew by 10th grade that he wanted to become an engineer like his dad. He completed his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in civil engineering in 1975 in his home country of Pakistan and immediately started working in the construction industry. He grew in his job from site engineer to director of civil works, then moved to Saudi Arabia and worked there from 1978 until 2016.
After completing his last work assignment in 2017, Baig decided to come to the United States to further his education and pursue career possibilities outside of construction.
"I wanted to polish my skills because I have been in the field for a good 35 years, and I wanted to see the latest engineering studies as well as learn best practices in project management," he said.
He enrolled in courses in May 2019 at A-State to become more marketable and enhance his skills. He completed the MEM program in December of 2020 in just a year and a half, and with a 4.0 GPA.
Widening the Opportunities
Although Baig's engineering background already provided him with versatile skills, his tangible experience was in construction.
"It was beneficial to broaden my horizons and learn about topics that could be applied in multiple fields — such as time and cost management," he said.
Since project management is Baig's specialty, he most benefited from courses like Project Management for Engineers; Advanced Engineering Economy; Engineering Management I; and Engineering Management II.
"I have been focusing on project management because I want to correlate my expertise with my experience from the construction industry," he said.
Baig felt that A-State did an excellent job of covering the many facets of project management by including topics in the curriculum such as product management, the engineering economy and project selection. He also learned alternative methods for predicting project outcomes when the absolute cost could not be anticipated.
"We learned ways to model the potential value by going through the optimistic, pessimistic and most-likely scenarios.
"This program has enlightened me on so many aspects," he said.
Though Baig's son — who is also a civil engineer — questioned why his dad, a seasoned professional with over three decades of experience, would need any additional education, he now sees the reason and is thinking of pursuing an MEM degree of his own.
"This master's degree has certainly opened up some other avenues for me to consider and my school of thought has widened," said Baig.
Sharing the Wealth
Baig wants to help others the way he believes he has been helped. He dreams of lecturing to young engineers in every discipline and guiding them as they begin their careers – especially at universities in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He credits completing the MEM program at A-State with making him feel more prepared for that step.
"Now I can be more precise while I am delivering lectures on project management. I can be more rigorous, more open and more up to date in terms of the latest studies.
"If I get the chance, I will lecture in the U.S. as well, but I'm targeting Saudi Arabia to give back after living there so many years and working in their construction industry," he said. "I'm going to do it on a volunteer basis just to introduce myself and share the knowledge that I have gained with the next generation."
Baig's advice to engineers is to not pigeonhole themselves. He recommends they opt for broader degree programs like the MEM at A-State to leave career possibilities open.
Sunny Days Ahead
Baig had planned to attend his outdoor commencement ceremony in person despite rain in the forecast. Graduation was not the finish line for him, but a new beginning. He hopes to one day enroll in a Ph.D. program.
"Life has to go on. It must seek new avenues, new goals and challenges," he said. "Other than that, I will be looking for a job. Then I'm going to start my workshops and my construction management conferences and lectures, which I want to provide for the engineers at large."
When he's able to take breaks, gardening is Baig's favorite way to relax, and he has become familiar with some of the plant life in Arkansas. He also enjoys learning new software applications, particularly in costing and time management.
"What I want to say to all my fellow engineers is that education is something very important and to not let age be a factor. I'm 60+ years old, and I just completed my master's in engineering management. Let's keep our eyes fixed on the goal, which is taking each next step after the one you have already achieved."