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B.S., Civil Engineering

Ryan Montvydas joins SDM after four tours with the U.S. Coast Guard, serving not only in the United States but also in the Middle East. He’s familiar with the challenges of overseeing the many demands of a Coast Guard Cutter and its crew, but he’s looking forward to strengthening those skills in the System Design and Management program. “This is such an incredible opportunity for me to develop as a leader and engineer so I can offer more to the Coast Guard, improve my communities, and hopefully better the world by refining my knowledge of how engineering and management can support each other,” he says.

Can you tell me about your work?

I graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2014, with a degree in Civil Engineering. From there I went to my first ship, or “cutter” as it’s called in the Coast Guard, the SPENCER in Boston, Massachusetts. I started as a student engineer and then I took on the role of chief engineer (also known as Engineer Officer) during my last five months on board. There was an opening on the cutter and the Captain had noticed my work ethic, knowledge of the engineering plant and cutter as well as my leadership capability. I was humbled by the opportunity. I had planned on going to a shore-based naval engineering job within the Coast Guard. However, I developed a desire to serve at sea. From there I went to be the Operations Officer of the HOLLYHOCK  in Port Huron, Michigan. That’s where I applied to attend graduate school through the Coast Guard’s Naval Engineering program. 

During that time, I was offered a unique opportunity to be a Commanding Officer (CO) of in Bahrain. As the CO of the “relief crew” I would temporarily take command of cutters so my peers could go on leave and the units would remain operational. My crew and I were also responsible for a forward operating base in Kuwait, which was a port where U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships would stop. It was an exciting and opportunity where I had the privilege to work with several different countries and their navies. 

Following that tour I was able to return to the United States as the Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter BERNARD C. WEBBER in Miami Beach, Florida. It’s uncommon to complete so many afloat tours consecutively, but the opening was available and it gave me time to explore which program was the right fit for me.

How did you hear about SDM?

I have a Civil Engineering background and I was accepted to attend graduate school for naval engineering, so I was researching industrial and systems engineering programs. Having worked with many different contractors, maintaining ships, and gaining experience with bringing cutters into dry docks opened my eyes to the importance of the engineering and management relationship and how they naturally go hand-in-hand. Through researching several different programs, I discovered SDM and it was a perfect fit. From there it was my dream to get into the program, so I was absolutely honored when I got in.

I was also able to contact a couple of other Coast Guardsmen who are in the program and have graduated from SDM prior to applying. In addition, I knew some peers in the 2N program. I was always impressed and intrigued by MIT and what it offers. 

Why SDM? How do you think a systems approach will help you in your work? 

I was able to work with MIT students during my tour on the Coast Guard Cutter SPENCER, where they analyzed electrical loads. I thought it was fascinating, but I also thought, “Why is this stopping at a thesis? What can I learn so that I can take incredible ideas and implement them into an efficient process within the Coast Guard?” New systems, processes, and products can take a while to implement within the government; there’s many important checks and balances that need to happen. However, I would love to be part of a team that improves our processes and streamlines efficiency to have a greater impact.

I’m excited how SDM can help me get to that point as a systems thinker and how it will open my mind on approaching and solving problems. I think this program will not only help me to problem-solve but also to develop my process of creating solutions, understanding that not everything will be perfect but that you can use systems thinking to get to a base solution and develop it from there. 

SDM also resonated with me because no one is straight from undergrad. Everyone is from a diverse field of STEM positions with established careers or several different careers. Knowing that I am seven years away from when I last took classes in an undergraduate program, I knew it would be tough if I went straight into a mechanical engineering or naval architecture degree program. Not only would I be playing catch-up to reset what I had with civil engineering, but I also needed to switch into an academic mindset. SDM was a unique opportunity, knowing my cohort is in a similar position as me.

Are there other courses you’re interested in?

I want to focus on leadership as much as engineering. I was not expecting a year and a half through my first tour to fill in as Chief Engineer. When I went from a department of seven to being responsible for 30 crew members it was a big jump.  Learning how to motivate that diverse crew and how to work with them and get them to be their best selves and engineers was challenging. I had to make sure I built that trust with them, so they knew that I had their best interest in mind, but that I also knew when they came to me with a problem or a solution that I knew they were doing their best.