Alum Spotlight: Jim Coffing

jim coffing.jpgJim Coffing earned his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at IIT before attending Northwestern for his MEM.  He eventually received his JD, contributing to the diverse background that informs his work.  He is now Lead Patent Counsel for Motorola Solutions. Part of the reason Jim enjoys working at Motorola is that they “[take] an ultra-modern approach to solving longstanding, basic problems–like fighting and minimizing crime incidents–for [their] customers.  [Motorola] is leading the way in using data analytics for the advancement of public safety.”   Jim is not all work though, he loves golf and platform tennis, and his secret talent is water ballet!  We asked him how his MEM degree has impacted his career:

What made you decide to pursue an MEM degree?

Before deciding on law school, I was looking for a way to leverage my engineering and relationship-building skills.  I enjoyed my early days as an engineer, but I didn’t feel it was the path for me.  While starting an MS EE degree program, I discovered the MEM program, immediately applied and changed my career path completely.

What was the best part of MEM:

[The best part was] learning not only from professors, but also my fellow students.  Each night of class I was exposed to new problems, and new solutions, that were being applied in businesses quite diverse from my own.

How has your MEM experience contributed to your career path?

The art of being able to communicate with engineers, understanding what technical questions to ask and how to translate the answers in a business context, has been an invaluable asset in my career.   As a patent lawyer, it is important to understand technology enough to ask relevant questions, without losing sight of the business reasoning behind them.  This skill of ‘translating’ between technical and business jargon was developed at Northwestern, and I have been using it ever since.  This has been as important as any of the skills I developed in engineering and law school.

Was there a part of your experience you found was unique to Northwestern?

I think a school like Northwestern, which has a reputation of excellence in both arts and sciences, is an ideal environment to learn diverse skillsets.  There are many ways to view–and solve–problems, and Northwestern’s MEM program teaches students to think broadly, as well as critically, in addressing them.

Any advice for future students?

Keep your ears and mind open when your fellow students are speaking…seize the opportunity to learn from them.  Also keep in mind that they are listening to your words carefully…respect the responsibility you have to share information.


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