The Terry website and magazine devotes a lot of attention to faculty contributions that impact students, the field of research, and the reputation of the college. However, an essential part of the college experience is a student’s personal path to acquire knowledge.
The “In Their Own Words” series examines some of the more personal paths of faculty at the Terry College. Answering a single question, the professors and lecturers share a breadth and depth of experiences that, while unique, are also universal of the journeys of prospective and current students and alumni.
In Their Own Words: Nicholas Berente
How did you get into research?
After graduating from John Carroll University, I worked for a German company selling computer-aided design (CAD) software. A fellow salesman and I left the company in 1995 and decided to start something similar in my basement.
We were doing that and working with a division of Emerson Electric where they wanted us to do this thing called PDM – Product Data Management. We learned with them and PDM is now called PLM – Product Life Cycle Management.
We got in there and built that set of skills just as this was hitting manufacturing companies in the U.S. We grew it between 1995 and 2002 into a $10 million consulting and systems integration firm, which is small, but still significant for a consulting firm. We had offices from Charlotte to Chicago to Cleveland.
In 2002, I sold it and then I didn’t know what to do. There was a non-compete clause as a part of the sale and I didn’t want to compete against my old company anyway. So I went back to school to get my MBA.
I started with my MBA. Since my background was in CAD software some professors at Case invited me onto a research project that was studying Frank Gehry’s use of high-end aerospace CAD software for designing buildings. For those not familiar, Frank Gehry’s a famous architect (link) – who designs these crazy buildings.
They brought me in as a CAD expert for their research. I became completely absorbed in the research and ended up in the PhD program and got sucked into this whole academic thing.
When you’re out there doing consulting you’re helping organizations solve problems and change in important ways. You are providing valuable services.
The thing is, that when you’re a consultant people expect you to have the answers. The dirty little secret is that consultants don’t have the answers – they have a couple of answers to a couple of things. They don’t have all the answers to everything, but people expect them to.
Academics don’t know it all, either. But what academics is all about, is the pursuit of the knowledge. Although gaining knowledge is important to consultants, too, in academia you can avoid much of the selling, managing, and firefighting that also come with the consulting territory.
Academia is in many ways pure inquiry – you can focus on really getting to the bottom of things in a thorough, fundamental way that few consultants have the bandwidth for. The fact that professors get paid to think and explore new knowledge is incredibly appealing to me.
I thought, “Wow, these academics are teaching and thinking, researching, and teaching some more.” The more I got into it and did it, the more I loved it.
Before the economy tanked and my skills were still in high demand, I got job offers while earning my PhD. However, I made the decision to stick with my PhD and I’m very happy that I did.