Kate Cantu Wins 2016 SDM Leadership Award

Kate Cantu, SDM ’15

On September 27, 2016, MIT System Design & Management (SDM) Industry Codirector Joan Rubin* announced that Kate Cantu won the annual MIT SDM Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking. The announcement was made during the annual SDM student-alumni networking session at Morss Hall on the MIT campus.

Created by the SDM staff in 2010, the award honors a first-year SDM student who demonstrates the highest level of strategic, sustainable contributions to fellow SDM students and the broader SDM and MIT communities; superior skills in leadership, innovation, and systems thinking; and effective collaboration with SDM staff, fellow students, and alumni.

The winner receives a monetary prize.

Cantu, a member of the SDM class that entered in 2016, was cited for numerous achievements, including the following.

  • She served as program manager for MIT’s CubeSat team, which competed in the Cube Quest Challenge, a small satellite competition run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In this role, she supervised several MIT undergraduate and graduate students while integrating 25 high school students into the team. She led the team to a second-place finish in one of four tournaments held to select satellites for an unmanned lunar flyby mission planned for launch in 2018. (Her team is still in the ongoing competition.)
  • She co-led the annual SDM Tech Trek to Silicon Valley, in which 25 students and five faculty visited nine companies in just five days.
  • She co-led SDM’s “Not a Drone” boat entry for MIT’s Crossing the Charles Competition. She helped plan and execute the boat’s design, build, test, and operation.
  • She conducted thesis research resulting in a proposed new model-based systems engineering framework of methods and tools for better aligning technology development for the US Department of Defense’s space enterprise.
  • She served on the SDM Student Leadership Council; was a panelist for two SDM information sessions; was a panelist and mentor at a US Air Force career day; and participated in an in-class panel on model-based systems engineering, where she shared the US Air Force perspective.
  • She led a student seminar titled “A Day Without Space.”

Beyond the MIT community, Cantu organized and/or volunteered for several activities at her children’s school, including developing and leading a rocket experiment for 90 second-graders as part of Science Day.

In addition to Cantu, this year’s nominees included Leo Barlach and Vikas Enti. Barlach was recognized specifically for his leadership roles with the 2016 MIT Sustainability Summit, the SDM Student Life Council, the Sidney Pacific Graduate House, SDM’s participation in the Crossing of the Charles celebration, and for his volunteer work with the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program.

Enti was commended for his leadership roles as associate director of the MIT $100K Startup Competition and as a co-leader of the fall and spring SDM Tech Treks, as well as for serving as Amazon Robotics’ MIT liaison.

All nominees and the winner are selected by the SDM staff, with input from the first-year SDM community.

* Rubin was recently named executive director of SDM.