SDM remains strong at 10 years

SDM '06 students get into the spirit with Design Challenge I.

Program celebrates its tenth anniversary

By Amy MacMillan, LFM/SDM Communications Assistant
March 21, 2006

A decade in, the System Design and Management program still attracts some of the world’s most enterprising leaders. Each year, accomplished engineers, entrepreneurs, career military personnel, and rocket scientists, among many others, expand their horizons by choosing an SDM degree over a traditional MBA.

SDM ’06 students get into the spirit with Design Challenge I, one of their initial team-building assignments. From L-R in back row, Cheolmin Park, Nathan Minami, Vincent Mahe. In front, Michael Visée and Monica Giffin.

This year’s class is no exception. Thirty-five of the students already have graduate degrees (four have Ph.D.s), and the average years of work experience is 9.35 years.

Since January, this group of 57 men and women has merged together into a tight community of diverse individuals, reflecting how the program has changed over the years, says Pat Hale, Director of the SDM Fellows program. Initially, SDM had its grounding in engineering, but now counts the financial, business, high-tech, and military sectors as a source for well-rounded SDM candidates.

"SDM began as a program primarily intended for partner companies to prepare future product development leaders for more complex system design and management challenges, which is why we always included a distance-option and a career compatible, two-year program," he says. But, over the past decade, the program’s first-rate reputation has widened, and more mid-career professionals are choosing to pursue the SDM degree independently, he says. This year, 29 of the students are self-sponsored, and 28 are company-sponsored. There are also more international students. This year’s class includes 31 U.S. citizens, 3 permanent residents, and 20 non-U.S. citizens. The average age is 30.

Self Motivation

The SDM program, which has three options for earning an SM in Engineering and Management, is intensive and time-consuming. But this year’s cohort is already enjoying an admirable camaraderie and sense of community conscience outside of the classroom.

Nine of the students established the MIT-SDM ’06 Running Team, and participated in a five-mile and half-marathon run in "soto/soto.html”>military vets and 2004-2005 Employment Report published by SDM.

Armed Forces

Previously, SDM has typically attracted one or two military officers, Hale says. But this year, for the first time, the SDM class has seven Navy Engineering Duty officers, and one U.S. Navy member from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five. Specifically, the Navy officers are taking SDM as a second Master’s program with the MIT Naval Construction and Engineering Curriculum (Course 2N). "If the SDM/2N combination goes well, it may pave the way for regular use of SDM by some officers as a systems management curriculum to complement the Naval Engineer Program," Hale notes.

One of this year’s naval officers, Lt. Ashley Fuller, says the Navy needs systems engineering thinking. "The Navy is moving toward systems experts," he says. Fuller joined SDM because he sees the future of engineering as an ability to integrate business and engineering. "SDM provides a revolutionary way of thinking. As an undergrad engineer, I was never taught specifically how my decisions would impact the products as a system," he says.

As in the past several years, SDM 2006 features several members who served in the war in Iraq. Leticia Soto, company commander for the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five was in Iraq from March 2005 to November 2005. Nathan Minami, U.S. Army, spent 14 months in Iraq as an infantry company commander and brigade assistant operations officer. He worked directly with Iraqi Elections officials and the Iraqi Army to establish polling sites and facilitate national elections. Fellow classmate Robert J. Corby, Jr., is a U.S. Army sergeant who worked on complex and hazardous missions in combat.

Hale is proud of how the program has evolved over the past decade. "It’s now become the prestige program for mid-career professionals from technical backgrounds," he says.

A group of SDM staff, faculty, alumni, and the current class members celebrated the program’s tenth anniversary at the Faculty Club in January. There’s no doubt this year’s class will be back in 10 years, toasting SDM’s 20th anniversary celebration.