Hale the SDM Chief

Pat Hale in 1977.Pat Hale

Pat Hale expertly runs the SDM program

By Amy MacMillan, LFM-SDM Communications Assistant
September 19, 2006

It was 1967 – the Summer of Love – and 18-year-old Pat Hale expected to be drafted, so he enlisted in the Navy. Hale very much wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Verne, a proud Air Force pilot who spent the last years of World War II in a German POW camp after his plane was shot down. But, the younger Hale was dreadfully nearsighted and unable to fly planes. The Air Force didn’t seem as enticing without the possibility of flying, so he headed for the seas, a choice he never regretted.

Western Roots

Hale, 57, was born in Wyoming, but grew up as an "Air Force Brat," with his two younger sisters, Karen and Diana. While their father transferred around in the service, their mother, Elaine, typically found work as a choir director at the local church. Hale recalls once moving six times in one year, but the transitions only made him more relaxed in any social situation. "More than anything else, it made me comfortable moving around and getting to know people quickly. I generally am not uncomfortable being in a group of people who I don’t know well," he says today.

During the Vietnam War, he was in the submarine service and was deployed on supporting operations, but saw no time ‘on the ground’ in Vietnam. "I could tell you what I was doing, but then I’d have to kill you," he jokes. The late 1960s were a tense time as many young Americans protested the war in Asia, but Hale was pragmatic enough to see both sides. One of his best friends was a conscientious objector, and this never affected their friendship. "I felt that it was his right, and he was absolutely sincere in his beliefs. One of the reasons I was in the military was so that he would have the right to feel that way."

A Naval Career

After eight years in the Navy, Hale was selected for the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program, which sent enlisted personnel to college to study science or engineering. Following completion, graduates owed the Navy five years of service as an officer. Hale chose to study geophysical oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle. "I completely misunderstood what oceanography was, but I took it as a major." Like many, Hale thought oceanography would open doors to the glamorous world of the likes of Jacques Cousteau. "In oceanography, the only ‘animals’ you study are plankton," he laughs. "If you want to be Jacques Cousteau, you study marine zoology," he adds.

Pat Hale in 1977, when he was stationed on the U.S.S. Schenectady.

But, Hale had always had an interest in math and science, and the Navy’s nuclear power program and the study of hydrodynamics and mineralogy only intensified it. He liked serving in the military, and even enjoyed living on a submarine for months at a time. "The submarine world is a unique community," he explains. "It’s almost like a merit-based community – if there is such a thing – in the military. There’s much less emphasis put on rank, than there is on whether you are qualified or not. You depend on one another pretty much all the time," he says.

He went on to earn an S.M. in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and the Ocean Engineer degree from MIT in 1984. He also has an MBA from National University in San Diego.

When he retired from the Navy in 1989, his final assignment was as Department Head, Combat/Weapons Systems, Supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair in Groton, CT.

That same year, he took a position with Draper Laboratory as a systems engineer and later program manager for unmanned undersea vehicles. Four years later, he became director of Systems Engineering at Draper, before he left to take the same position at Otis Elevator Company. In fact, Hale successfully established the first organization and processes for Systems Engineering at the United Technologies company.

MIT Beckons

While at Otis, he became involved as an industry stakeholder in the plans for a new engineering degree at MIT – a program where students could earn a master of science in engineering and management. Prior to the creation of this System Design and Management (SDM) degree, engineers had only the narrow choice of an executive MBA program, which didn’t address technical requirements, Hale remembers. "We needed more engineers who could understand the theory and practice of systems architecture and the implications of systems thinking," he says. The SDM program, the first degree-granting distance learning program at MIT was born. It celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

In 2002, he left Otis, and started his own consulting company, SysteMentor LLC, where he continued to serve in an advisory role for SDM, running the SDM Certificate program. In 2004, he applied and was selected for the Director of the SDM Fellows program position, and he accepted.

Hale also serves as president-elect of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), an organization he’s been a member of for 12 years. He will assume the office of president for the 2008-2009 term. INCOSE is a global professional society for systems engineers. "Pat has invested many personal hours in INCOSE over the last decade," says fellow colleague and ESD Senior Lecturer Donna Rhodes. "He is always one of the first people to volunteer to work difficult tasks. I’ve also taught systems engineering courses with Pat. His knowledge and experience of the systems engineering field are outstanding, and his personal style makes such collaborations truly enjoyable."

At Home

Following years of military moves, Hale has finally put down some roots. "I’m getting over this, but between my years of traveling for work and my time in the Navy, I got to the point where if I lived someplace for longer than about a year-and-a-half, I started getting antsy to move." Today, he’s lived in the same Middleboro, Mass. house with his wife Janet, for the past seven years.

His enthusiasm for music takes up much of his spare time. Growing up, he played piano, woodwinds, and guitar. Today Hale plays guitar and sings on a regular basis for his church. His musical heroes include Tina Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eric Clapton, and jazz favorite Lionel Hampton.

An avowed technophile, Hale owns three iPods, and claims the one thing he could not live without is his pocket PC. "It’s my brain," he says. And, if none of his gadgets do what he needs, he’ll simply write or modify a software program to make it work.

He drives a hybrid car – one that runs on gasoline and electric – but admits that a true fuel cell and hydrogen economy are a long way off in the automobile industry. "When I hear politicians and pundits talking about how in a couple of years we’ll all be driving fuel-cell based cars, I think that’s probably completely unrealistic. There are a lot of challenges – which people are working on – in terms of producing hydrogen in quantities to satisfy," he says.

Hale’s passions, however, extend beyond technical gadgets and concern for the environment. He and his wife are both wine connoisseurs, and share a love for gourmet cooking. While Janet Hale vigilantly follows recipes, measuring out ingredients, her husband takes a surprisingly cavalier attitude toward recipes, given his engineering bent. "I’ll get a sense of what a dish is, but I almost never follow a recipe. I like to taste as I go along," Hale says.

His sense of adventure was also evidenced when he impulsively proposed to Janet on their second date. He followed it up three months later with a formal proposal on a planned trip to Paris on Valentine’s Day in 1999. The two have eight children and eight grandchildren between them. Most weekends in the Hale home are spent entertaining family with lots of big dinners and time spent with the grandkids. "We’re family-oriented, and we love watching them grow up," Hale says.

In the future, Hale would like to see systems engineering broaden as a discipline and plans to use his position in INCOSE to promote this. He also plans to teach more courses for SDM, while he fosters the program’s continued growth. This semester, he is teaching ESD.930 Systems Engineering Taxonomy & Semantics.

Retirement for Hale is a long way off, and although he has no solid plans, he dreams of a future where some days he gets to wake up with "nothing to do."

Pat Hale has played an instrumental role in the SDM program since its inception.