Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, President & Chief Executive of The New Model Institute for Technology & Engineering (NMITE), is a leader who, with her value-driven leadership, has disrupted the traditional business model and has dared to write a new set of rules. Following an unconventional route, she has managed to create an environment where people work together as a team to achieve a common goal. A leader in the truest sense, Elena envisions a completely different future for engineering and has certainly set the stage for an educational revolution.
We caught up with Elena to learn about her vision and plans for her organization.
Aspioneer (A): Thank you for doing this with us, Elena. Can you tell us something about NMITE?
Elena Rodriguez- Falcon (E): “NMITE is a newly created Higher Education Institute (HEI) in the UK, which was conceived many years ago as a vehicle for change. Change in the way we educate, with the aim to equip ‘work ready’ engineers to help fill the engineering gap that currently exists in this country. NMITE was inaugurated on October 19, 2018 and was listed in the register of English higher education providers by the Office for Students (OfS) in August 2020. In November 2020, NMITE received validation by The Open University, the UK’s largest academic institution and a world leader in flexible distance learning.”
(A): What was the core purpose behind the genesis of NMITE?
(E): “NMITE was created to help regenerate Herefordshire, the county it is located in, which is, and has always been, a cold spot for higher education. Our purpose is to inspire the next generation of engineers. At NMITE, we keep to this vision, knowing very clearly why we are here and not deviating from it, something that’s incredibly important. The vision is shared by everyone we talk to. We all understand the vision within NMITE, the Board of Trustees, staff, students, donors, and the government. We are consistent in the delivery of our pedagogical model, and our marketing reflects that vision, so the people who come here do so because of that vision. In February 2022, NMITE was featured in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper as an example of an institution that is playing a role in leveling up the challenge. NMITE has embraced its role to deliver opportunities to its community (Herefordshire) in terms of skills and employability.”
"Every journey is different, and every individual has a different background, a different path to follow, different aspirations, and certainly a different personality."
(A): What, according to you, makes NMITE unique? How are your courses different from the others?
(E): “What makes NMITE unique is that it is the first new Greenfield Higher Education Institution built in the last 40 years, with a very clear mandate for disrupting HE in engineering. The ‘new’ model is one that brings aspects of various disciplines such as medicine and architecture from models in the USA, Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, and Quest University, Canada. Instead of four years, the standard length of an engineering degree in this country, it is accelerated to three years. Our engineers in training learn from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, 46 weeks of the year. They learn in spaces that reflect the world of work, in teams of five, broken down from groups of 25. There are no lecture theatres or lectures with only small seminars. There are no exams, everything is assessed by project work and continual assessment with the employers remaining very closely involved, making NMITE unique.”
(A): How would you describe your success? Did you plan your career?
(E): “I didn’t set out looking for success and recognition. I began my journey in my classroom in Sheffield, where I was determined to provide my students with an experience that reflected the world of work, to equip them with the skills to successfully and confidently enter the working environment, not feel the way I did after graduation. And so, that passion to provide those experiences became liked, known, appreciated, and recognized by the students, who nominated me for the awards because they had something different and unique. This had a snowball effect and the recognition from the students led to the University and other Institutions finding out about this different approach, so more recognition started coming through.”
(A): How do you keep yourself updated?
(E): “In our industry, which is higher education (HE)/engineering and technology, we, and I, stay up to date in a multitude of ways. We attend conferences, we read articles, and we keep up to date with what is happening around the world, but we are also constantly working with partners in our area, be it education or engineering. We also run focus groups with companies, for example, to understand what the future of engineering is and what the future of engineering education should be, transforming those ideas and trends into action.”
(A): Who inspires you the most? What advice would you give to other female leaders on career success?
(E): “I admire my mum the most. She came from a very difficult background and has had many challenges in her life, including mental health issues, and yet she has given me everything [alongside my dad], including my code of conduct, my moral compass, and my determination for success. Every journey is different, and every individual has a different background, a different path to follow, different aspirations, and certainly a different personality. I want to encourage all women to think about their journey, barriers, and paths, but most importantly, to focus on themselves, have fun, and enjoy the journey; it will make life a lot more enjoyable.”
(A): How do you revitalize? How do you keep yourself going?
(E): “I like to spend time with my partner, Tracy, and our cats. We like to binge-watch TV, watch Netflix and films, and love playing PokemonGo. Nothing intellectually challenging, but we just like being together. I enjoy reaching out to my family, and I call my mum and dad in Mexico every day. I believe it’s important to do this to keep a good work-life balance. The job is so intense that when I am not working, I like to do things that bring me joy.”
(A): As we are fast approaching the post-pandemic era, what projects are you working on? What are your plans for your organization?
(E): “I am extremely excited about the opening of the CATT and CAM. It is of key importance to highlight that NMITE is at a very early stage of development, but we are already looking at expanding our provision. We currently have one undergraduate program but will soon begin expanding to several programs over the next two to three years, including programs within the CAM and CATT. Sometime in the future, we plan to gain a T4 student visa license to allow us to recruit international students. It is all very exciting. Our vision has always been that our engineers, following graduation, will hit the ground running. They will be game-changers, people who can comfortably move between disciplines and innovate with others who care about the environment. That is a huge legacy as we will have helped create engineers who will be looking at solving the current problems of the world.”