Overseer of SDM Certificate Program

David Erickson, Director of the SDM Certificate Program

David Erickson takes the helm of the Certificate Program

By Amy MacMillan, LFM/SDM Communications Assistant
October 18, 2006

David Erickson became director of the System Design and Management (SDM) Certificate Program on July 1. A class of 22 students completed the program in September and a new class of 18 students started in July. Erickson, a Navy veteran, worked for United Technologies Corporation from 1997 to 2002. He also served as principal Systems Engineer for the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, and Program Manager at General Electric in Fitchburg, Mass. Today, he is a California-based independent consultant who provides expertise in program management and systems engineering. He received his S.M. in Mechanical Engineering and Engineer’s Degree in Ocean Engineering from MIT in 1978. Erickson received an MBA from the Johnson School at Cornell University in 2003.

What is the SDM Certificate Program?

The Certificate Program was created to help SDM partner companies increase the transformation speed to a systems culture – it is almost like an abbreviated SDM curriculum. Students from SDM companies engage in three core and foundation subjects (system architecture, systems engineering, and product design and development) in a distance learning format, plus two weeks of on-campus seminars on related topics from the SDM master’s degree curriculum. They participate in the same classes as the students in the degree program (and receive MIT credit for those courses).

When did systems engineering become popular? Why is it so important?

Probably within the last 10 years, systems engineering has started coming into its own in the commercial sector after developing in complex space, defense and aerospace programs. Systems engineering is important and necessary to focus on interfaces and provide the data for decisions that have to be made to design and build better products and systems. Things today are becoming more complex and engineers need a better understanding of how to develop products faster using a disciplined systems engineering approach.

Participants in the certificate program get an in-depth understanding of what systems engineering is. Students’ careers benefit by expanding their expertise in systems engineering, product development, program management, and business understanding. Typically some students have had some experience with systems engineering, but not a lot because many have come from more rigid engineering single discipline backgrounds. It’s enlightening to see how the program can reshape their thinking.

What is special about the SDM Certificate Program?

The Certificate Program is a one-year program modeled after the SDM master’s in engineering and management. To a large extent, they are integrated because, as mentioned previously, students from both attend SDM core classes together. This integrated approach is very effective and unique from most other universities. And, you’ll also see that some of the certificate students migrate into the master’s program. They recognize the knowledge and value they are realizing from the certificate program and decide the SDM master’s program is an excellent career development choice. Students will get an in-depth understanding of what systems engineering is. The knowledge they gain can be applied directly and immediately to challenges in product development projects at their companies.

What’s the biggest challenge in running the program?

Helping the students to think outside the box. MIT is unique. I’ve attended three universities, but MIT is the only one where you truly are challenged to think creatively in new ways. I really enjoy being with students, mentoring and guiding them through the program. I am also pleased to be back at MIT helping with a program which lets me use my education and career experience.

What is the ‘Capstone Project’ that Certificate students must complete?

The Capstone is a year-long comprehensive project in which students apply systems engineering to address a problem or initiative within the student’s business unit and company. Projects can be done by individuals or teams, and they can also extend across companies.

Can you provide an example of a ‘Capstone Project’?

Yes. For example, United Technologies recently acquired a company that doesn’t have a formally documented product development process. The Capstone Project selected by the team is to develop a baseline product development process for the business. Another team at Sikorsky Helicopter selected a wireless communications project for control and communications signals onboard the helicopter. The projects run the gamut of topics, and will provide a plan from conception through implementation. My role is to advise and mentor the students as they do their Capstone Projects.

Where do you see for the future of the SDM Certificate Program?

I see the Certificate Program expanding in the future with an increased number of students and participation with more companies. The certificate program will continue to successfully complement the SDM Master’s Program for many companies, by enabling many more employees to benefit from this fantastic career development experience.

David Erickson, Director of the SDM Certificate Program