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Faculty Spotlight: Tony Opperman

Faculty Spotlight: Tony Opperman

Headshot of Tony Opperman, wearing a white shirt and blue-striped necktie

Double alumnus Tony Opperman (CWR ’12, GRS ’13) has returned to the Case School of Engineering—this time, on the faculty—and balances his coursework with a successful career in mechanical engineering. He recently spoke with us about his plans for teaching EPOM 403: Engineering Entrepreneurship, and keys to success as an engineering student and professional. Excerpts of the conversation follow here and in a second post.

Expanded Perspective in Innovation and Technology

Q: Tell us about your background.

A: I did undergrad in mechanical engineering. I originally wanted to be a biomedical engineer, but I got concerned that I wouldn't actually make anything, and I'm pretty dead-set on wanting to build stuff. So, going the mechanical route, I ended up in classes where I was building stuff all the time, and I enjoyed that.

A key thing for formulating my professional track was an internship at Nottingham Spirk the summer after my sophomore year. Nottingham Spirk is a small business in Cleveland, Ohio that specializes in helping companies invent and innovate. Initially, they started with just making things, but now they do complete business model innovation and user experience, and pretty much the whole swath of innovation.

I got to join in with the engineering team that would be building physical prototypes for customers, and I really enjoyed that. I got to do some really cool stuff as an intern—actually making prototypes for the customers, researching what they were going to need. That internship turned into a co-op. And I was set on working there full time after undergrad because I liked it and I was good at it.

One of my really good friends told me I would love the Master of Engineering and Management (MEM) program at Case Western Reserve University. I decided to do it, and I really enjoyed it. That program opens your mind to things other than the specific technical issues of being an engineer.

Taking classes in product development, entrepreneurship, and managing organizations and change really expanded my perspective on things. I got lots of great job offers, and I ended up interning at Orbital Research during that master’s in engineering and management program—and I never left.

From Engineering Entrepreneur to University Faculty Member

Q: What brought you to teaching after 10 years in engineering entrepreneurship?

A: I enjoyed the MEM program a lot. I was the kid always raising his hand in class.

One of my professors was Colin Drummond, who was teaching the entrepreneurship course, which was one of the core courses for the MEM. He hired me as an assistant. I ended up doing half the lectures, helped out with generating some of the class projects, evaluating stuff, eventually doing some of the grades. Colin asked me if I would teach a whole section of it for a year, without him, and he got someone else to teach the other section. So I got the opportunity to do the entire course, beginning to end. And I did really enjoy getting to make the content and fitting it into the bigger picture of the MEM program.

For this most recent round of teaching, I was at one of the corporate advisory board meetings for MEM, and they said, “We’re looking for people to teach different portions of this Master of Engineering program.”

Powerful Networking Through Case Western Reserve University

Q: What do you see the networking opportunity being for an online engineering student?

A: It connects into a lot of other things. You've got a great relationship with Timken and Lubrizol and all these other big companies in the area, and there are grads across the board.

I certainly would introduce students I thought were going the extra mile to my network. I've done that before, and I even hire them. And I have friends in all kinds of industries. So I’m certainly open to helping students network.

Q: What has kept you coming back to Case Western Reserve University?

A: Once you make a whole bunch of connections, and you have that common experience and people can understand—I did work on some project with so and so; I remember them from class, or when they were teaching, or whatever—it just builds on itself. And even if it’s somebody you haven't talked to in a while, people remember that kind of stuff. A big part of my network is the CWRU network, and opportunities go back to that.

The Value of Doing What You Love

Q: What’s your tip for keeping up with the rigor of a program, such as that at Case Western Reserve, along with day-to-day life and hobbies?

A: As an undergrad, I was pretty stretched all the way around. I was doing varsity football for years, and I was very involved with Greek life. I was vice president of my fraternity for two full terms. I spent a lot of time on things that weren't school.

I continue to feel the networking benefits of [being a CWRU student], like the experience I had at Nottingham Spirk. One of the alumni from my fraternity worked at Nottingham Spirk. When I applied for the internship, he remembered me, and so it got me off on an excellent foot and gave me a way to get a good interview there, which then spiraled into a lot of different things.

I was always doing things I was really interested in, and that helps. I wanted to be involved with my fraternity, to be doing football, to be doing classes where I got to build things and make prototypes.

I think I did three different senior design classes, and in one of them, you had to design a process and come up with your prototype. At the end of the semester, I made a bariatric patient bed that moved on an air bearing so that, say, a 120-pound nurse could move around even a 700-pound patient. It had all these built-in winches and everything, and I ended up making a 1/16-scale or 1/12-scale model out of actual steel. And I really enjoyed doing that. So I spent a lot of extra time on that class. I didn't need to. The main theme is: Do things that you really like doing so that when it takes extra effort, it doesn't feel as bad.

Make the Best Choice for Your Engineering Career

Tony Opperman is living proof that an engineering master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University can set you apart from the crowd. At Case School of Engineering, you’ll find the graduate program that fits your career goals: the online Master of Engineering, online Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, online Master of Science in Systems and Control Engineering, and many others. Gain the technical skills to be up to date on the latest research and technology, as well as the communication and leadership skills you need to work alongside engineers and experts from across disciplines.

For more information about our programs, curricula and application process, schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today.

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.