February 26, 2009
Each January brings a new cohort to MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program. Now in its 13th year, the career-compatible master’s program—which can be completed on a full- or part-time basis, on the MIT campus or primarily at a distance—continues to attract the best and brightest midcareer technical managers from a wide range of industries around the world.
This year’s class is no exception. Students hail from China, Chile, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Japan, and across the United States. Almost half the 60-person cohort holds at least one advanced degree, (including one MD), from institutions including MIT, Stanford, Rensselaer, Cornell, McGill, Keio University, and Bhopal University.
Members of SDM’s class entering in 2009 have served in the Greek Navy, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Israeli Army, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Navy. Moreover, they have worked in an almost entire alphabet of fields, including automotive, banking, consulting, defense, environmental engineering, foreign service, global positioning, hardware, insurance, logistics, networking, operations, pharmaceutical, quality control, risk mitigation, telecom, and voice recognition. Titles in the class range from engineer to entrepreneur to vice president.
Such diversity is typical of SDM. "SDM is largely about learning how to think differently, embrace different viewpoints, and ultimately create new, more holistic solutions to solving the complex problems facing our world," said Pat Hale, director of the SDM Fellows Program. "The diversity, level, and type of expertise brought by each member of the class means that students learn not only from the faculty but also from each other."
Members of the faculty frequently learn from students as well, Hale said. "The professors say that having SDM students in their classes—especially those who are still working and taking the program part-time or at a distance—means that they have access to the most current challenges in the workplace."
This year, some of those challenges may involve BlackRock, an investment management firm. Tim Harsh, a director in the portfolio compliance group at BlackRock, is attending SDM part-time, primarily at a distance from Wilmington, Delaware.
"The SDM distance option was an attractive alternative to the traditional mode of graduate education because it offered minimal disruption to the work/life balance. Moreover, it’s mutually beneficial to the firm and to the student. Here at BlackRock, it allows me to continue progressing in a successful career track and allows the firm to retain the experience base of a known and established performer," Harsh said.
"Even after just the initial January session, I’ve already been able to bring back and apply some of the insights gathered," he continued. "Since I’m uniquely involved in our business operations, our technology and systems platform, as well as the management/leadership of our team, each of the constituents of the SDM program has applicability to my role."
Cynthia Hernandez, an MIT alumna enrolled in SDM’s full-time on-campus option, provides another perspective.
"I am using SDM to change direction in my career," she said, noting that she voluntarily left her position as an advanced quality manager at a large automotive supplier in October. "SDM offers both the technical challenge I want and the business education I need to be more effective as a technical leader."
Hernandez said that although she has just started SDM, she can already see how it will help her serve her next employer. "SDM is giving me the ability to think about a large system and determine requirements for pieces of that system. This benefits not only companies with complex products, but companies with complex networks of suppliers, offices, and customers."
Anando Chowdhury certainly believes it will help his employer, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. "People claim that bio-pharma is radically different from any other domain. However, I am finding that the dynamics of systems, people and technology that I’m learning about in SDM are truly universal."
"I sit on the leadership team of Merck Manufacturing Division’s Global Science, Technology, and Commercialization group, where we integrate process technology and business needs to develop, launch, and supply medicines and vaccines," said Chowdury. "Merck is transitioning from a traditional structure to a new operating model for end-to-end product development and deployment. We will need to learn all the lessons from SDM to bring this model to life. I see applications every day, in real time, and I have more solutions than I have time to deploy. It’s a really good problem to have!"
SDM is able to serve such a diverse cohort because the program can be customized to serve individual educational and professional goals. Nevertheless, members of each year’s cohort form strong bonds through shared experiences, in classes and through team projects. For the Class of 2009, that means they have just joined a network they’re likely to rely on for years to come.