SDM Student Juggles Coursework, Company, Speaker Series

Charles Iheagwara

By Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse
October 1, 2010MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) attracts many students with master’s degrees, but perhaps no one has entered with more academic credentials than Charles Iheagwara, who joined the 2010 cohort with four advanced degrees-including a PhD in computer science.

The founder and chief technology officer of Unatek Inc., a US government information technology contractor, Iheagwara has also taught at the university level and has 40 published works to his name. Nevertheless, he said that studying at SDM has been “fantastic.”

“Going to MIT is the dream of every engineer,” he said. “The coursework and the curriculum [at SDM] are the best that anyone could imagine.”

Iheagwara said he is particularly benefiting from the management portions of the curriculum. “I haven’t had any formal management education. So this is the opportunity for me to learn about the theoretical and practical aspects of management and leadership,” he said. “In today’s corporate world, technology is an indispensable tool …. [SDM] demonstrates how effective management can lead to better utilization of technology to enhance the bottom line.”

He said he is already putting his new SDM skills to use on the job—particularly the lessons he learned about forging alliances in SDM’s course in technology strategy. “I don’t think in the past I was able to do that so well at Unatek. But immediately after [taking the course] I was able to strengthen areas where I was weak,” he said.

Never one to do things by halves, Iheagwara is not just working and going to school full time. He is also organizing SDM’s speaker series as a member of the program’s Industrial Relations Committee, a student-led group that works to forge links between SDM and the business community.

As both an executive and an academic, Iheagwara said he felt a responsibility to put his resources to use for the benefit of the SDM program. “I thought I could tap contacts I had to help promote the program,” he said, noting that he had organized several big conferences at Unatek. “I believe that if you are part of an organization, you should work to advance the interests of that organization.”

The first series of talks organized by Iheagwara took place this past summer. Highlights were a keynote address on entrepreneurship and leadership by Mamoon Yunus (MIT ’93, ’95), president and CEO of Crosscheck Networks, and a panel discussion among Ajay Mishra, global head of innovations management at Nokia Siemens Networks; Rob Kramer, chief of applications development and operations at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; and Darren Hammell, co-founder and executive vice president for business development at Princeton Power Systems.

“I like the panel sessions because, if nothing else, they make it possible to have more speakers from a diverse spectrum of the work force,” Iheagwara said, noting that the series has three main goals:

  1. To give the SDM cohort the opportunity to learn directly from high-caliber professionals on the front lines of industry.
  2. To disseminate information about the program to the speakers themselves, who come to MIT from different companies and organizations.
  3. To promote the program more generally. “Each time we invite speakers and have speaker events, it generates some sound bites that can help promote the program,” Iheagwara said.

Typically, the SDM speaker series is open only to members of the SDM community, allowing SDM students to meet with speakers in small groups and to ask questions during presentations and afterward. Iheagwara and others on the Industrial Relations Committee have been working to line up other speakers for the fall and have a commitment from Luwanda Jenkins, Maryland’s special secretary of minority affairs. They’re also reaching out to many chief technology officers and entrepreneurs and expect to have an exciting program lined up, Iheagwara said.

“We think the fall and spring will be very busy with events,” he said.

For current SDM event information, go to and