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Back for More: Advancing Industries Through Academic Research

DEPARTMENT(S): 
March 23, 2022
WPI alum Ron Welter discusses how The Business School’s Executive PhD will enable him to drive digital transformation for biopharma companies.

Ron Welter ’87, ’02 (MS), ’14 (MBA) is a hands-on person who loves "making stuff," and he has also always been open to learning new things. Currently, he’s pursuing an Executive PhD from The Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), his fourth degree from the university—and he’s had nearly as many careers, ranging from manufacturing support to software development, to life sciences consulting. Furthering his education has been a constant throughout Ron’s career and his PhD will be the culmination of his more than 30 years of experience.

After graduating in 1987 with a BS in Manufacturing Engineering, Ron held mainly manufacturing support and operational roles at companies including Texas Instruments and AMETEK Aerospace. At the latter, one of his projects involved working on the instrumentation for the formerly classified Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” aircraft. These experiences led him to pursue an MS in manufacturing engineering. Around this time, he transitioned to software development consulting and worked directly on Oracle applications and provided technical team leadership.

A New Degree and a New Industry

Although Ron had his share of career highlights, he still felt he could accomplish more. “[My career] wasn’t as fulfilling or as fun as I thought it should be and I had this feeling that I should do something about it.” In 2012, he entered WPI’s Innovator’s MBA Program. “That was a fantastic experience,” he reflects. “I learned how to learn in new ways and became adept at the new technologies that were available.”

While working on his MBA, he got pulled into the biopharma space working for Hawkins Point. “I was employee number four working full-time at a major Biopharma client as well as helping to grow this startup. Wow. So, I got to use what I was learning in my MBA pretty much every day. [The degree] really helped me grow in a new industry.” He quickly became part of the company’s leadership managing key initiatives, such as building out the company’s consulting delivery model and refining internal processes. He was a critical component in the growth and success of the business. (Hawkins Point was acquired in 2021 with 120 employees.)

He is now working at a new startup where he provides digital transformation strategy and execution to biopharmaceutical companies. He also gives back to the professional community through hosting webinars and conducting public speaking and mentoring on behalf of the Project Management Institute as well as mentoring business startup ventures through the WPI I-Corps program and TAN (Tech Advisors Network).

Leveraging Life Experiences for a PhD

Today, Ron is back at WPI working on his Executive PhD. “I don’t have a patent or a PhD, so those are two of my unachieved goals,” he says. “I do enjoy learning and I have a passion for the life sciences work I do. And I realized that there are activities being done in an academic environment that could help the industry.”

Before pursuing a PhD at this stage in his career, he needed to make sure the degree was the right fit for him and could integrate with the work he was currently doing. “I reached out to Professors Sharon Johnson and Diane Strong and they said, ‘What a coincidence, we’re starting up an Executive PhD that leverages your life experiences with academic research and rigor.’ At that point, I was in.”

After he started the program and began to narrow in on a potential area of focus, Ron tapped into the network he had built over the years. “I got to interview some high-level people I'd worked with in the past to get their feedback on topics I was gravitating toward.” As he continued to interview industry executives in life sciences, he had the realization that “If you’re approaching people who are supportive of learning and education, they’re more willing to help you because it allows them to give back. They want to help advance the industry as a whole. And for me, these are the same people I would want to do business with.”

“If you’re approaching people who are supportive of learning and education, they’re more willing to help you because it allows them to give back. They want to help advance the industry as a whole. And for me, these are the same people I would want to do business with.”

To hone in on a topic for his dissertation, Ron also reflected on his years of experience with supporting technology systems, conducting research in life sciences, and advising companies during the drug development process. “COVID-19 introduced a greater acceptance of decentralized clinical trials using a variety of online tools. This creates an opportunity and a challenge, especially for small biopharma companies. What systems do they choose to conduct clinical trials? How do they store and secure their data? Solving these problems will help them grow—and this ties directly into the digital transformation work I’m doing in my career. So, that’s where I’m focusing my research.”

What advice does Ron have for others considering the Executive PhD? “This is a degree for people who love learning and are looking to advance their professional network. It also allows you to get valuable input from people who may not otherwise talk to you because you’re not approaching them from a sales angle. You’re actually trying to help an industry, which in turn can help them.”

There’s a reason he’s returned to WPI. “I worked with Professors Johnson and Strong while I was pursuing my previous degrees and those were great experiences. And while this is something I’ll need to own and drive, I’ll continue to have their support—and that of my WPI MBA cohort. The people [at WPI] care and they will challenge you without just handing you something. It’s a valuable experience—and that’s why I’m back for more.”